Monday, June 1, 2009

On Everything

There are some nights when I am overcome with an overwhelming sensation of relaxation and calm, and I just know everything is going to be all right with the world. Depending on how you were trained, schooled, or your beliefs, you probably have a different explanation for why this is. Science will tell us that we some how trigger a release of excess serotonin in our brain, which gives us an emotional high. Religion will attribute this same sensation to a divine power flowing through us. We will tell ourselves that we are in love or that we feel the love of our friends and family, and politicians will tell us that this feeling is exactly why we should vote for them. The thing is that every one of those answers is correct and valid. The thing we are describing is a feeling: it is a personal experience and interpretation of the world around us. Who cares what we call it, changing its name doesn’t make it any less real.

Everyone wants to be right. I understand this want, in fact, there are times I’m sure that my friends and loved ones would say I view it more as a ‘need’ than as a desire. Being right makes you feel important, it makes you feel validated, and fundamentally it makes you feel alive. No one wants to feel like their life has no meaning, and being right is how we can see our life directly impacting another person. It is a cheap and fleeting rose-coloured lens through which to view the world.

The problem occurs when our feelings of right directly oppose another person’s. Or, put more painfully, when one person’s beliefs directly hinder or conflict with another’s: Science Vs. Religion or Progress Vs. Nature (to name some well traveled examples). Do you allow an indigenous culture to continue their traditional hunting patterns even if the species is endangered? What if the tribe was binding young women’s feet or sewing their vaginas shut, is it ok then? When do the needs of the many really out weight the needs of the few?

As a society, nay, a species, sooner or later we are going to have to stop dodging these issues and actually tackle them head on. We are going to have to step out side of our comfort zones and actually be ready to be wrong. More than that, we are going to have to accept the fact that everything we know now may be proven totally and absolutely erroneous one day, and people are going to look back at our ‘modern’ society and remark, “what were they thinking”?

Being wrong is not a fun sensation; in fact it can be downright humiliating. It can also be extremely freeing. If you are not afraid to be wrong then you can throw out a far-fetched idea that seems absolutely absurd and maybe it will be the thing that changes the world. To get to this place however we have to be willing to accept other people’s opinions as well. People’s feelings are not stupid, they come from exactly the same place our feelings do and are often triggered by the same reasons. The only difference here is the language used to describe them. There will be some points that we will never be able to agree upon, and in the end one side will simply have to acknowledge that for the betterment of the human race, a practice will have to stop. I do believe however that these instances are far fewer than we are willing to admit, and that we often stop listening as soon as key words leave someone’s mouth.

We need to learn to get beyond the words being said and into feelings that caused their saying. This is where the core ideas are held, and where ultimately both sides will have to make sacrifices. Once we get to this place we have to have the courage to be wrong and to allow ourselves to say whatever comes to our mind. Only then can we determine how humanity can work with our planet to create a future worth living in. These decisions will not be easy and may cause initial hardship, but lasting change has never come easily, and it is a better way to feel alive.