Thoughts are funny things, conceptually speaking. Just think of the phrase, “Hold that thought”. When we say it we mean it figuratively but I think culturally we take it literally. Especially because thought and ideas are usually synonymous in literature and in practice. We own what we think. “Those are my personal thoughts”, “The thoughts and ideas expressed in (pick your favorite talk show) are those of the host and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts and ideas of (pick your favorite station, magazine, etc.) It’s actually surprising that we don’t spell “thought” with a capitol T. In many respects a thought is a noun.
In regard to the times we live in, our thoughts are precious. They are, ideally, comprised of what we know to be true, what we hope for the future, what we remember of the past and our criterion for assessing the world around us i.e. our beliefs. They represent the “Meta Me”. The ideal un-tethered human being. Or so every science fiction movie I have ever seen says. Our thoughts represent our greater selves.
And that, perhaps, is why our beliefs are so precious to us. And that in turn would explain why so many of us are so offended when our beliefs are challenged. Challenging someones beliefs or suggesting that those beliefs are incomplete, or not well thought out, is by definition a challenge of that persons very being. The sage advice of course is that one should not hold on to dearly to any particular thought. By practicing this we hope to avoid complacency, flat footed thinking, selfishness, bias, prejudice and ineptitude. All things that we, again ideally, would like to avoid. Still, it can be quite the battle.
Even the wisest among us are vulnerable to the vanity that comes with learning something. Because, after all, we spend a lot of time learning. Learning is, I think, most often rewarding, but can be simultaneously arduous and painful. What we learn advances our careers, protects us from danger, brings us love and happiness, and helps us survive drama. Yet, what we refuse to let go of can imprison us, make us bigoted, and, in general, keep us from ever moving forward. We spend so much time learning things and yet not a minute is spent on how to unlearn a thing. How to let go of our precious sense of what we know.
Often, unlearning a thing is accompanied by shame, humiliation and frustration. It can also come with a sense of loss. “How much time have I wasted believing…”. “What about my salvation?”. Our beliefs, what we know, do a very good job of putting us at ease, giving us confidence and making us feel that we can be certain of… things.
It seems, knowing life as well as I do. Smile. It seems that we might spend more time getting comfortable with un-learning things. We might spend more time offering forgiveness, welcoming growth and respecting the loss that can come with learning to see and do things differently. And that doing so, might in turn make changing our beliefs or learning new things or learning to accept different types of people less painful and less embarrassing.
We have a global cultural tradition of shaming those who lose faith, those who reveal a lack of knowledge and an even more pervasive tradition of punishing those who do not believe as we do. We cannot expect to progress culturally if the reward for learning something is a public shaming. It doesn’t really matter how “Shaming” became a habit. We do it– we like to shame people for what they do or do not believe. We have very little respect that all beliefs and behaviors are learned. Despite the fact that we DO know that learning something is not easy for many people. Despite the fact that we know that many beliefs are precious traditions of thought, time tested and proven.
When I see someone struggling with learning, I see a person who is brave. Placing themselves in the light where everyone can see what it is that they do not know. And pursuing their learning in spite of the initial sense of discomfort that comes with being a beginner. Just think about the children who have lost their lives being “hazed” and you’ll understand how deep the tradition of shaming ignorance goes.
After you read this, take time to appreciate a learner and the people who support them. I’m still learning. I am learning to be proud of my willingness to learn the things that I don’t know.