I walk around with unexamined, conflicting worldviews in my head. We all do. In fact, it would seem the whole of science, emotion, and religion is engaged in the management and unification of these conflicts.
- Which one actually describes matter and energy – quantum mechanics or classical mechanics?
- If she said that about me, how can I continue to be her friend and still respect myself, unless that’s all I’m really worth?
- How could a loving God let such evil happen?
These and a billion similar questions are the interesting parts of life to me; the places where curiosity doesn’t get a curt reply from a textbook. It’s fascinating to me that, just like you, I just walk around with my instinctive answers to conflicting ideas, and my subconscious hasn’t even informed me of their existence.
- I don’t think about the physics; I just try to avoid stubbing my toe.
- I don’t analyze my friendships; I just stay offended at jerks.
- I just “believe in” God (or don’t), whatever that means, and I don’t worry too much about what it means.
The above examples are just some of the most obvious ones. I believe the vast majority of these conflicting ideas don’t even get addressed by the conscious mind. I adopted each idea in a different context and only apply it – or even acknowledge its existence – while my experience is within the caldron that cooked it up. Some easy examples are:
- When I’m depressed, I truly believe I have nothing to offer the world. But when I’m experiencing a flood of positive emotion, I feel that everyone has an infinite value and utility!
- When things are going well with my wife, I think we’re the best team the world has ever seen. But when my expectations aren’t met, she doesn’t love me, and I’m not sure she ever has.
- When I’m in a good mood, my business is important and thriving. But when my blood sugar is low, I can easily believe the company is only moderately successful and not worth the constant irritation it causes.
If it sounds like I’m bi-polar, it’s because I am. Just like you. That’s the point! The only difference between most of us is the degree to which our our conscious minds is honest about the subconscious. (You are the easiest person for you to deceive.) The scary hidden truths are the ones you work the hardest to suppress, and just pray the circumstances never test your assumptions:
- You’re capable of a literal murderous rage.
- You don’t really like your kids.
- You would have made a great Nazi.
- You haven’t become half the person you could have.
Those truths are lurking just beneath the surface. A part of you believes them to be true, but denial keeps you sane.
The Conflict about Conflict
As a self-proclaimed curious person, I’d like to think I am enamored when I find these conflicts in myself. They should be fun!
But at this point in life, for a guy who’s as introspective as I am, most of the conflicts I have left to find have been pretty well buried. I have spent decades building a life on those ideas. The way I searched for God, raised my kids, related to my wife, and everything else – these were all powered by the engine of philosophies I’m not sure I could fully defend. To upend a core belief on the whim of an intellectual curiosity is not a welcomed endeavor.
I think this is why most old people get “stuck” in their ways. The cost of acknowledging a revealed truth is the foundation of their lives. Ignorance is comfortable. Reconstruction is exhausting. Angering. Terrifying. After all, who’s to say this new thing will be any better than the last house of lies I accidentally built? Thanks, but I’d rather stick with the thing I have than trade it for whatever is behind door number two.
The Resolution to the Conflict
I know some people who are open to change, even into their later years. In my life, they’re usually old ladies. They are the first in their families to have expressed acceptance for the gay family member, to sneak some contraband to their child, or to seem genuinely impressed by the wisdom of someone a third their age. I imagine such old ladies frequently encountering conflict and saying, “You know…I think you’re right!”
That’s so beautiful! Those old ladies are not shackled in the moment by philosophical sunk costs. Gosh, I hope I’m an old lady when I grow up! So I’m trying to compile a list of characteristics that will send me in that direction, and leave me open to graciously roll with the punches of new information. So far, I think that those people:
- Build identity on curiosity. They pivot quickly upon the arrival of new information, and they don’t feel ashamed that their past best wasn’t good enough. They don’t hold a set of principles as the ultimate truths, and the best way for everyone to live. Instead, they pride themselves on their reaction to change, and bask in the benefits of unavoidable chaos. They live in gratitude and wonder.
- Hold relationships as the highest value. People suck. But they’re the same ones that are awesome. Screwed up people doing their screwed up best to not screw things up. These old ladies know that. They neither idolize nor villainize. Everyone is great! Despite their screw-ups. They’re just as valuable and loveable as everyone else. Nothing is worth broken relationships.
- Learn to accept loss. Not only externally, but internally. The loss of long-held beliefs is one of the hardest, because it’s not inevitable. Death can take my loved ones from me, but my ideas almost always have to be handed over voluntarily. Accepting loss means learning to grieve expectations, letting go of what I can’t control, and holding lightly those things which can warp my soul, when grasped too tightly in the high winds of truth.
- Memento mori. Most crap just doesn’t really matter.
…but I’m open to changing my mind. What do you have to add to the topic?