When we consider the idea of better-managing our consciousness, we tend to primarily think about the self-defeating patterns of thought we often repeat due to influences in our history.
Put succinctly, we’re guilty of self-abuse. We are plagued by our bad ideas about ourselves, and our relationships are plagued by our ideas about ourselves and others.
Those personal relationships are critical to address. But doing so does not mean we should overlook our thinking about the larger world around us and the events happening within it.
Just as we have a relationships with others, and one with ourself, we also have a relationship with our landscape of awareness. We have a relationship with our society, as a citizen.
As everyone is aware, at the time of this writing, many societies are currently engaged in an unusually high level of interpersonal and inter-group conflict and division. That’s resulted in a lot of people’s general emotional state being defined by ‘outrage.’
Outrage is an intense emotion, and emotions distort our ability to reason. If we’re looking for solutions, outrage is about as far away from the answer as we can possibly get. That said, it’s important to note that sometimes outrage is necessary to incite the movement toward a real answer for our future.
Despite its value, outrage will always be a tortured experience in the present moments that form our life experience. For that reason, we should traverse those feelings as quickly as possible so that we can get onto the business of peace. And that can only come through mutual understanding.
Since this trend is relatively new, we know that the outrage is not a natural aspect of our society. Today it exists largely as a result of social media. Much like when we comment on other drivers from our cars, when we’re not right in front of a person and we have the power to shut them out of our attention, we can lose track of the basic need for ongoing human decency and cooperation.
Forgetting that we need others can mean that we become overly judgmental and aggressive with our views. We can be viciously attacking someone with an opposing belief, even though people with that opposing belief might be someone we value you dearly.
Maybe the person with other views is the surgeon who saved a dear friend, or the detective who solved a case important to us. Maybe they’re just the person who ensures our food is safe, or who keeps our water clean, or who produces our child’s insulin. No matter what anyone does, in an extended way, we all live within a web of mutual need.
There is an easy unity in that mutual need. But we can lose track of it in a flurry of thinking. That thinking can get so busy-minded that we forget that our views can co-exist with differing views. We forget that we can be good friends with people who think very differently from ourselves.
Today, too often, we feel like we need to change other’s views to ours. We ask for respect but we do not give it. If we respect others, we will engage meaningfully with them. We will let them change their own minds, freely, when they are ready. Because despite any outrage we apply, that is the only way minds change.
We cannot force people to think differently. We can only invite them to do so by making a new idea more appealing than their old one. And if we wonder why people are resistant to our good intentions, we must remember that all sides of every issue is made up of human egos.
Even though we will be trying to change other’s views, when someone suggests ours are incorrect, we will rarely do what we ask of others –which is to seriously consider what our ‘opposition’ is saying. Instead, our ego defends its past and the beliefs that developed from it. It defends its opinions because those beliefs are what form our ego’s identity.
So what does ‘wisdom’ do, instead of being certain in its beliefs? Wisdom is humble, which also means it’s flexible. It’s open to change, so it wonders, could something be true that we currently don’t believe? Wisdom will want to find out.
To that end, the wise person will test their beliefs by trying to prove themselves wrong using a consensus of more informed external sources of reality.
Maybe we’ve googled and in our reality we think we might have some disease. But if the doctor runs tests and says ‘no,’ then the odds are strongly in favour of the doctor and the science the doctor is using. When it comes to assessing which reality to live in, in the vast majority of cases, we’re better to trust the doctor’s fact-based conclusion over our own less-informed opinion.
If we do double check with quality sources of assessing our external reality and we find out we’re right, fine. That adds confidence to our views. But if we find out we’re wrong, we must be prepared to follow that result, otherwise we’re engaged in ego.
When it comes to assessing our shared ‘reality,’ egos have opinions about it that they’re attached to. But in contrast, when it comes to our day to day reality, ‘wisdom’ is a logical, detached process that functions using fixed principles. It takes a lot of pressure off of us.
Detaching that process means that we can remain open to the idea that our Devil’s Advocacy tool may change us rather than the world. And if that’s the case, we can feel good about changing. It is, in other words, just a way of describing the idea of ‘growth.’
Growth is the loss of old beliefs in favour of new, more informed ones. Not perfect ones that need defending. Just more informed beliefs than we previously had. And that process of improvement should continue throughout life. But for that to happen we will simply need to be open to being wrong about many things.
Real confidence is the confidence to admit a mistake, because we all know, everyone makes them. And we all do so fairly routinely. That being the case, society would be much more peaceful if we all spent less time telling others what they were wrong about, and we redirected that time toward asking ourselves what our own blind spots might be…?
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.