It was naïve to assume that putting virtually all information in the hands of the world would usher in greater enlightenment. Rather than folks accessing the information necessary to make intelligent decisions, it seems to have only increased our thirst for confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we go searching for those items which confirm our pre-existing prejudices. If we believe something about politics, however unreasonable, we search out opinions which confirm our beliefs rather than explore facts which might force us to change our minds. We are drowning in infinite information while avoiding wisdom.
We seek out simplistic answers to complex issues particularly if the subject matter is complicated and difficult to understand. The obvious answer is, when we want to understand something, we should find what people who know more about the subject have to say. We, for example, listen to epidemiologists about epidemics rather than politicians or television pundits. Naw, don’t be silly, we listen to our neighbor who knows all about wood working which we admire and, besides, our neighbor agrees with somebody we like on cable news. Therefore, we proclaim our allegiance to something obviously not true because it makes us feel good.
My mother had a million sayings to help navigate life. One I definitely remember was, “Consider the source”. As a child that didn’t fully register but now it’s obvious. If we want to evaluate the wisdom of something we start by listening to people who ought to know. If someone proclaims something we’re not sure about, we ask ourselves why that person says what they do. When we trust someone we don’t like to question their motives but, invariably, they do have underlying reasons for what they say.
In politics, successful people are good judges of how voters feel and then rush to get at the head of the procession once they’re sure they know it’s the popular thing to do. Public figures are rarely the ones who forge new paths, they’re simply the ones who see what’s popular and then proclaim it more loudly than others and take credit for it.
If we fail to question what we’re told to believe we lead lives based on beliefs that simply aren’t true.
Anthony de Mello once gave a lecture in which he questioned a commonly held religious belief. Afterwards, a priest in his nineties came to him and said plaintively, “I’ve been wrong my whole life.” What a sadness, and what a joy! So sad that the man had gone down a mistaken path for so many years, so joyful that he recognized it, even late in life and was, thereby, enlightened.
The man had accepted doctrine all his life and didn’t stop to ask who and what that doctrine served when he should have asked whether or not it was compatible with what he really knew to be true in his heart.
Walt Whitman said we should, “dismiss whatever insults your own soul”. Those are very freeing words and worth remembering.