Everyone has an opinion, everyone is a part-time philosopher. And it is by necessity, after all this is life – we need answers.
The question for all of us part-time philosophers is how do we come to the conclusions we do? Can we come to better conclusions? Are we unwittingly obstructing achieving greater truth or insight?
I think we are and I think most people could do a lot better. Even being aware of the common obstructions is vastly helpful.
The obstructions to finding greater truth all revolve around a need to maintain one’s reputation and compete with others. They are all about ego.
Here are 5 of them:
The need to be right
We have a deep need to be right. The problem is that from a young age people are trained to provide the appropriate answer, provide the pleasing answer, the ‘right’ answer, the answer in the teacher’s answer book. ‘I never let my schooling interfere with my education’ said Mark Twain.
Over time this training not only constrains what you say, it constrains what you think, what you think is possible. Forget the state, this is the real threat to freedom of thought.
The solution is to stop trying to be ‘right’. Stop trying to ‘win’. Relax. Forget about everything – your friends, your teacher, your boss, the bullshit. If you cling to needing to be seen to be ‘right’, you’ll be superficially smart but substantively ignorant.
The truth is something much deeper. Commit yourself to the truth beyond all else, including being right, and paradoxically you will be right, much of the time.
The need to appear sophisticated and intelligent
We’ve all seen this one before. The individual that speaks in an imperious manner using unnecessarily big words to say something of little or no substance. All this in the clear attempt to sound intelligent.
Most of us may have at times strayed into this type of behaviour – we’re only human, and we want to be loved, be it for ourselves, our talents or because we are apparently sophisticated and intelligent! (note the need to be loved is the primary reason for many of our sins, the reason why we lie about ourselves and present ourselves as something we are not – a good one to remember).
But you can’t find greater truth when you do this, when you put appearing to be something, in front of finding greater insight, you do yourself no favours. You will not find greater insight and ultimately people will see through you.
Although the bigger problem is that you have your priorities all wrong. Again, release the ego, allow yourself to been seen as not sophisticated or intelligent for a moment and focus on finding the truth… if that is what you really want.
The need to maintain friendships
We luuurrrvvee people who think just. Like. Us. Ain’t it cute? And you thought you were all about diversity and individuality.
Well you’re not. Warming to people who hold the same opinions as you and being cooler towards people you disagree with is a natural aspect of the human condition. Unfortunately it does little to help us challenge our assumptions or bring a different perspective to our experiences.
Not only that, once we become friends most of us, some more than others, feel a very strong need to continue to agree with our friends and hold the same opinions. We fear loss of love for the thoughts we may think, the values we hold or even the vague opinions we may occasionally venture. The cost of such love is a constricted world view. Oh, alas, such tragedy!
Friends are good things, but just keep in mind what is said here.
The need to maintain your reputation within your socioeconomic class, political sub-group, social circle or Facebook cadre
As with some of the other obstacles, the need to maintain a certain reputation will not only stop you saying things, it will stop you thinking things.
Give a person (1) an education so she/he understands the norms of the status quo, (2) give them material wealth, (3) give them some element of advantage attached to their group or class and then (4) threaten them with the removal of these privileges if they do not conform. The result is they will mostly conform. It is a silent enforcer. The carrot and stick you never really think about. But the greatest power is the power you cannot see.
It is no wonder most people think and say pretty predictable things consistent with their material, economic and social circumstances.
Ask yourself, what if I voiced an opinion different from my group? What if you increasingly did so. And ask yourself if you did, would there be repercussions? I think if you think about this seriously, you would understand there are serious repercussions.
The effect of course is that your capacity to question, to think broadly and therefore your ability to reach greater truth is compromised.
But you say ‘But, I don’t think feel a need to say anything different than my ‘group’ because I agree with the group!’ I say, ‘naturally, you do’. Again the greatest power is the power you never see.
The need to compete and win
If your aim is to ‘win’ you’re not going to win where truth is concerned. Your commitment to beating someone else will derail you from achieving the real prize.
Competition being the darling of capitalism, free markets and the protestant work ethic works well in sports, business and other easily measurable pursuits, but does not work well with what might be called the highest pursuits of humanity. You cannot ‘win’ at art, spirituality, truth or even science.
Do you think Einstein’s primary motivation was to beat some other guy? No, he was obsessed and enamoured at the wondrousness of what is theories were trying to describe. He was not looking level eyed at his competition, he was looking up to the sky.
In aiming to achieve greater truth, you are not concerned with beating someone else. If you meet someone else who similarly aims at truth without the need to beat others to it, than they are a brother or sister in arms to you. You relish in their ideas and discovery because you like them relish greater truth.
Beating the next person is merely to do a bit better than them. Whereas pursuing truth is like playing a friendly game of basketball with God.
A summarising comment:
What I have noticed here with these 5 obstacles to truth, is that they are all related to the need to be loved. Be it self-love or love from others most of us are willing to abandon any real pursuit of truth in order to appear smarter, be right, beat the next guy or agree with our friends.
Here we can see the need to be loved in contradiction to finding truth. Can we ever feel loved and accepted securely enough that we are really free to let our minds and souls find truth?