Down a River of Time

Happy New Year to all and may 2017 be a year of more peace, justice, health and happiness for the world.

life-passes

I have the following story to share with you as we enter 2017.  Karen and I make the trip twice a year between Wisconsin and Arizona to follow the sun.  While driving back to Wisconsin from Arizona, we were listening to classical music on Public Radio when they said they were going to play a piece called “Down a River of Time.”  Both Karen and I noted the title and almost simultaneously said: “that would make a wonderful metaphor for a blog.”  Since many of my blogs deal with metaphors, (Do you remember the difference between an analogy, a simile and a metaphor?) I thought it would be a good subject for the New Year.  If you want to listen to the music while you read this short blog (Click on the link:  Down a River of Time).  You will probably enjoy the music more than my blog.

twisty-riversThe most obvious metaphor for this topic is that we are all on a River of Time.  Some of us are on long rivers, some of us on short rivers.  Some of our rivers are very rocky.   Some of our rivers are very shallow and rapid.  Some of us are on rivers that are deep and wide.  A lucky few of us may live our lives on rivers that are very tranquil and wild-riverplacid.  Most likely though, most of us will live on rivers with many twists and turns that will suddenly go from peaceful and placid to wild and rough.  We will all no doubt eventually have unexpected obstacles that arise causing some of us to suddenly capsize.  Those of us who are lucky will find our way back into the boat.  Many will not be so lucky.

placid-riverIf you have spent your life on a wide tranquil river, it would be very difficult for you to appreciate anyone coming from a rough whitewater style river.  The converse is also true.  Maybe that is why it is difficult to walk in anyone else’s shoes.  We are all on different rivers and it is hard to understand the perspective of someone whose river is one we have never paddled.  At this point, you might say:  “Well, I disagree, life is simply one vast river and we all have rocks and logs and rapids to manage.”  Maybe so.

with-kidsWhen we are very young, our parents do the paddling for us.  As we become teenagers we decide we want to paddle alone.  We want our independence.  Some of us go to school to learn how to paddle and navigate.  Learning a language will help those who want to navigate foreign rivers.  Circumstances or choice will eventually force many of us to leave our first river and go far away to try a new river.  The bold among us will switch rivers many times in their life and continually attempt more challenging ones.

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As we get older, the paddling gets harder and we may need to rely on others for help to paddle.  We can no longer do it by ourselves anymore.  The paddling continues to become more difficult with each passing year.  Eventually, there will come a day when we are too old to paddle at all.  At this point, we will have to depend entirely on someone to do the paddling for us.  Some of us will have a difficult time letting go of the paddling chores.  It is not easy to navigate a river that takes us from dependence to independence and back to dependency again.

Time for Questions:

You might ask yourself today what kind of a river are you on now?  What kinds of rivers have you navigated in the past?  Have you had many rocky or obstacle strewn stretches in your river?  Have you ever capsized but managed to get back in?  Do you have a lifejacket in the boat with you?  Are you paddling solo or do you have a partner?  Have you become a better paddler over the years? If not, why?  What will it take for you to continue down the River of Time and continue having fun and enjoying the ride?

Life if just beginning.

“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann HesseSiddhartha

Dear Friends and Family:  Happy Holidays and a Wonderful New Year to Everyone in 2017 in the Whole World

20161201_2055481Karen says that I should start our annual holiday letter off because I write better than she does.  Well, since it is the holiday season, I will let her slide.  For my part, (Karen will add hers in a short while), I promise not to talk about politics, religion or philosophy.  We are all sick of politics and you are probably only marginally interested in the latter two topics.  What’s left then?  Well, I was thinking that I just turned 70 in September.  I never believed that I would see 30 years of age.  Now here I am 4 decades later pondering the same mysteries of life that I pondered forty years ago.  Feeling a little nostalgic, I got to thinking about the “firsts in my life.”  For instance, my first kiss and my first job.  So how about participating in a little nostalgia here and fire up your memories as well.  I have posted a list of “my firsts” with my responses to each item.  List is on the left with my responses to each one on the right.  Can you remember your answers to my list?   I would love to hear your list of firsts.  Please post your FIRSTS in the comments section if you can remember what they are and don’t mind sharing.

  • First day at school? — I remember just walking to school by myself 
  • First job? — I was a newspaper boy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island
  • First promotion? — Got my first stripe in the USAF after basic training          
  • First car? —  1947 4 door Plymouth, cost 50 dollars in 1960
  • First apartment or house? —  Osceola, Wisconsin in 1967
  • First child or grandchild? —  Christina born in 1968 in University of Minnesota
  • First day you left home? — I joined the USAF in October of 1964 
  • First date? — High school with a friend of mines girlfriend’s cousin                     

20161008_1133251Hi all.  I think I’ll stick with my firsts for the past year.  My first Dulcimer Jamboree in April, 2016 in Mountain View AR where I met the dulcimer 9 years ago.  A fateful meeting it was.  My first chromatic travel dulcimer which I took with me to New York in Nov.  My first raised bed garden this past summer made from old discarded stock tanks.  It produced more food than we could eat and it was so easy to weed and harvest.  My first grandson, Garrick, getting married to Kat this coming spring.  My first viewing of an opera at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.  My first concert in Carnegie Hall.  My first trip up the Statue of Liberty and out to Ellis Island to look for ancestors.

20161124_1108581It’s been a full, fun and sometimes exhausting year.  We still work part time to support our “snow birds” lifestyle.  I’m working with start-up home care agencies, teaching and consulting, and ICD 10 coding.  John has taught both on-line and residence classes.  We escaped our part time work with trips down to Kentucky for Kentucky Music Week, trips to the ocean in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, and a fall anniversary trip to Bayfield, WI.  And, of course, the trips back and forth from WI to AZ where John tries to find new unspoiled routes each time we go.

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Juli and Rob remain in Hastings with daughter Logan as a H.S junior this year and son Garrick and fiancé Kat are fixing up a home and planning their wedding.  Susan bought a home in Bloomington and accumulates mileage on her car with Sam (also a junior) in Northfield.  Her eldest son Zach is a college junior at Augsburg.  My son Kevin is still with LinkedIn and living in Silicon Valley, CA with his 3D printer and other tech stuff I don’t understand.  Megan works with AZ Multiple Listing Services and trains realtors on their software.  She writes the company blog and is about half way through her first novel.  She has discovered writing and loves it.

John volunteered this past year with Interfaith Caregivers in WI and spends time with the “Cucumber Guys”—the group who daily solve the world’s problems at the Frederic Library.  My “spare time” is generally spent practicing and playing with my dulcimer friends in both places.

Our good friend, Dar, frequently wears “Life is Good” t-shirts.  It’s a nice saying.  I’m thankful for our many blessings, friends, family and activities.  We wish you a very Happy 2017 and hope to see you all in 2017.

Love, John and Karen

Joy to the World

joy-to-the-world

Tis the season to be jolly, but for many people there might seem little to be jolly about.  In one of the most famous holiday stories of all time, the central character Ebenezer Scrooge gave what has become an iconic line about the holiday season.  Scrooge said:

“What’s Christmas but a time for finding yourself a year older and not a day richer?  There’s nothing merry in that.  If I could work my will, nephew, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Not exactly a fan of Christmas, Scrooge may have echoed sentiments that lie dormant in many of us.  Over the years, it seems the holiday season starts earlier and earlier.  There is more pressure than ever to buy the right gifts and to spend increased amounts of hard earned money on presents for friends and loved ones.  The airwaves and pulpits bemoan the crass commercialism that accompanies so much of the holiday season while at the same time making sure that all commercial breaks are properly inserted between the “holiday messages.”

Our churches are full of giving trees, toy drives and Christmas shoes boxes.  Perhaps giving more at Christmas to some mysteriously perceived needy children in dire need of more toys will make us feel better about ourselves for ignoring the poor and needy for the rest of the year.  Even at church, the message that Jesus meant for us gets diluted with the drive to fill the toy box.  Do we even know any more what message Jesus wanted us to hear?

the-gospelJesus talked about the three classes of good people.  The first class hears his message but has little time to do anything about it.  The second class hears the message and when convenient they try to help others and spread the message of Jesus.  The third class commits their body and soul to sharing Jesus’s message.  The third class of men/women make a commitment to doing this year round and 24/7.  For the third class, it is not a onetime thing or something to be done when they have time or are not busy.  It is a lifetime commitment to share his message with the world.

“The title, Three Classes of Men, stands for three kinds of persons in any walk of life. They might be three classes of religious or priests, husbands or wives, workers or professional men.  However, classified, they represent three levels of volitional disposition to sacrifice whatever is less than God and stands in the way of His more perfect service and love.  Viewed from another aspect, they are three states of spiritual detachment which in ascending degree dispose a man for the reception of divine grace.  Implicit in the meditation is the belief that no matter how entangled in secular pursuits and impeded in the way of perfection, a person can rise above this condition if he takes the trouble to recognize these impediments and is humble enough to pray for help to overcome them.” — Three Classes of Men by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Most of us will watch at least a few moving holiday stories before December 25th.  From Miracle on 34 Street to the story of the Christmas Truce during the fighting of WWI, we will hear many heartwarming tales of kindness and love.  Most of these stories are similar in theme to the Christmas Carol.  An individual who has utter contempt or callousness for the Christmas message somehow finds redemption through the love and compassion of others.

quote-the-life-of-jesus-christ-is-a-message-of-hope-a-message-of-mercy-a-message-of-life-in-max-lucado-90-79-19The Joy of Christmas is a state of fulfillment, contentment and gratitude.  Through the love of others who give selflessly of themselves, we can all be free to experience a Joy that cannot be bought or traded.  It is one of the reasons that giving and not receiving is said to be the true path to happiness.  During the holidays, we are excited about the chance to give to others.  And nowhere is that feeling of giving more delightful than in watching the face of a young child receive something that we know they really wanted.  However, Joy to the World should mean more than just giving toys to tots.  There are physical gifts which we can give but there are also emotional and spiritual gifts as well.

thank-you-fatherI am frequently critical of all the toy drives that I see going on at Christmastime.  Not just because I think most kids in America have more toys than they know what to do with, but because of the message that this sends.  Why not I ask, have a “books for tots” drive?  Why not give books for a present?  Why is it always about toys?  We become so narrowly focused that we lose sight of the larger picture.

Christmas is about Joy.  But Joy does not just come from toys.  Joy comes from learning.  Joy comes from sharing.  Joy comes from helping others.  Joy comes from being present when needed by others.  Joy is not just a physical phenomenon; it is a spiritual and emotional phenomenon.  The Message of Joy that Jesus wanted to bring into the world was a message about peace and love.

I see a lot of talk these days about putting the Ten Commandments up on scrolls and even billboards.  Here in Arizona City, they have erected a billboard with the Ten Commandments printed on it.  To the best of my knowledge, Jesus said

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-20

acts-kindness-inspiremoreThus, Jesus did not come to replace the commandments but he did come to go beyond the commandments.  God brought the commandments to Moses but the message that Jesus brought to us is in addition to the commandments.  Jesus extended the Ten Commandments with a list that has come to be known as the Eight Beatitudes.   A beatitude is something that gives one both happiness and blessedness.  Jesus gave these Eight during his famous Sermon on the Mount:

THE EIGHT BEATITUDES OF JESUS

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

message-to-the-worldI am continually surprised by so-called Christians who seem to revel in the Ten Commandments but treat the Eight Beatitudes as though they were bastard children of Satan.  When was the last time you heard anyone wanting to put up a statue or sculpture or sign with the Eight Beatitudes on it?  The Message of Christmas is the Eight Beatitudes.  The Joy that Jesus wanted to bring to the world can only come by following the Eight Beatitudes.  If you call yourself a Christian but you do not practice these in you daily life, then you are not spreading the Gospel of Jesus.

In this present climate of fear, bigotry and uncertainty engendered by the recent US Presidential race and outcome, the message of Jesus needs to be repeated and spread as never before.  If there was no Joy in Muddville when Casey struck out, there certainly will not be any Joy in the World until all of us, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Baha’i  and others start believing in and following the Eight Beatitudes.  I am not saying this to try to convince anyone to be a Christian.  The kindness-quotes1words of the Beatitudes go beyond any one religion.  They speak to a way of being in the world and a way of treating other human beings.  Just as I have found valuable teachings in other religions, I think more Christians should be willing to share the Message of Jesus in the Eight Beatitudes.  Keep in mind though, that sharing this message will never work unless you also live by the message.  You must be the change you want to see in others.  Do you know what the famous Indian Chief Sitting Bull said when asked what he thought of Christianity?  Chief Sitting Bull replied: “I have read your Bible and the religion seems good but I do not see many White people practicing it.”

Time for Questions: 

  • When we denigrate people on welfare and refuse to support the poor and needy what Beatitude are we ignoring?
  • When we want to wage war on other countries to support our lifestyle, what Beatitude are we breaking?
  • When we have no time for immigrants and refuse to shelter those needing respite from tyranny and injustice, what Beatitude speaks to this?
  • When we practice racism and discrimination towards those who are different from us in thoughts, words or deeds, what Beatitude are we not following?
  • When we fail to speak out against bigotry and hatred, what Beatitude would challenge our behavior?
  • When we fail to treat others with honesty and integrity, what Beatitude are we disdaining?
  • When we fail to give compassion and comfort to those in need, what Beatitude should we be thinking more of?
  • When we practice narcissism and think we are better than others, what Beatitude would Jesus tell us to look at more closely?
  • Which “Class” of people do you belong to?

Life is just beginning.

“The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness.  It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.” — Thomas S. Monson
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A Conversation between Satan and God

god-and-satan

Satan and God were sitting on a rock one day having a discussion about the human race.

Satan said to “God, I need some more souls in hell.  I think we have played this game with humanity for long enough.  Let’s end it and start a new game.”

God said:  “Well, I could be talked into that.  How would you suggest we end it?

Satan:  “We can divide up the human race.  You take the good ones and I will take the bad ones.”

God:  “Who would you include among the ‘bad’ ones?”

Satan:  “I will take all the people who never promoted peace and who sowed the seeds of hate and bigotry among humanity.”

God:  “They are all you want?”

Satan:  “Well, I would also like all the greedy ones who never did anything to help anyone else but who collected as much wealth as they could and would not share it with anyone else.”

God:  “Does this include all the greedy people who were against taxes to help the poor and needy?”

Satan:  “Of course.”

God:  “That’s not fair.  There would hardly be anyone left for me.”

Satan:  “Do you remember a long time ago when you gave Lot the deal with finding ten good people and you would save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from your wrath.  Your angels could not find even ten people for you to spare.  That was a good day for me.”

God:  “You have had many good days since we started this game.  Do you think perhaps it’s all your fault?  You are constantly sowing greed and hate.”

Satan:  “Guilty as charged but do you remember the Parable of the Seeds?  Some fell on good soil and grew and some fell on bad soil and did not grow.  My efforts would be fruitless were not humans so ripe for plucking and beguiling.”

God:  “Still, sometimes, I think you have been overzealous.  I gave humans free will when I created them and this has come back to bias our game.”

Satan:  “Please, now is not the time for hindsight.  I warned you about this when you created them but you were ever the optimist.”

hell_lavapitSatan:  “Do you want to concede and I will just take them all down to Hell?”

God:  “Do you have no mercy and compassion in you someplace?

Satan:  “You created me and now you extol me to be compassionate and merciful.  Those are traits best left for you and your saints.  I have no heart or soul so how can I care about anything much less human beings.”

God:  “Would you like to start over.  I can always recreate you.”

Satan:  “Thanks, but I am fine.  I like myself just the way I am.  I see no need for pity, love, kindness, or any of the other traits that you gave to humans.  Much good it has done them.”

godGod:  “The interesting thing about humans is not their stupidity and evilness.  It’s the surprising amount of love that they can sometimes show for others.  I am ever the optimist.  That is my role, to be the Eternal Optimist.  I have had hopes since the first cave men and since Moses and Socrates and Jesus and Mohammed and Gandhi and King and Mandela that humans have a spark in them.  A spark that when ignited can change themselves and the world into something beautiful.  Something that is so beautiful, it is even beyond anything I might have created.”

Satan:  “Yes, and then they turn right around and burn it down again.”  Hardly a day goes by on earth, when there is not some riot or war or holocaust or massacre or murder.”

God:  “It seesaws back and forth.  For over 100,000 years now, we have played this game and just when I think, I might win, someone or something evil seems to possess humans that I would never have thought of.”

Satan:  “Right, and you would like to blame me for it, but you gave them free will.”

God:  “The game would have been too predictable without free will.”

Satan:  “You keep hoping they will believe in you someday.  How many times have we had this discussion and yet we keep playing this game.”

God:  “Would you deny me the chance to win.”

chess-for-humanity-1Satan:  “You know I don’t care one way or the other.  I have no feelings to be hurt.  I cannot gloat or feel any satisfaction.  Whenever, a new soul comes down to Hell, it is no sense of pride or satisfaction to me.  These humans seem to mistake my logic and justice for evil.  I am the parent who dispenses the discipline and they see me as the mean and cruel one.”

Satan:  “From a purely logical viewpoint, I do not know why you subject yourself to this.  I see your pain and heartache whenever you lose one to me.  Why go on like this?  It will never be any different.  I get them for a thousand or so years and then I send their cleansed souls back to earth and in a short time they are back down again to Hell.”

God:  “I have no limits to my forgiveness.  They pray to me regularly for forgiveness and I forgive them.”

Satan:  “Yes, but even before they ask for forgiveness, they ask for their daily bread.  It is the only thing they can think about, eating and drinking and sex.”

God:  “You forget the good ones.  The mothers that devote their lives to their children.  The soldiers that forfeit their lives on the battlefields.  The fathers that work two jobs to support their families.  The martyrs who give their lives for their faith.  The blessed who are humble.  The peacemakers who face scorn and ridicule to end war.  The charitable who give the shirt off their backs to help those in need.”

Satan:  “Yes, and for every good one, there are ten evil ones.  That is why I want to end this farce.  How many souls must I take down to Hell, before you concede that humans are hopeless?”

God:  “Perhaps if I send another prophet or messiah to spread my message, we could turn the game around?”

Satan:  “You have sent dozens of prophets and many messiahs and it has made no difference.  They end up scorning or murdering your prophets and messiahs.  They would not follow your message if they could find the tablets that you etched in stone and gave to Moses.”

God:  “I don’t want to win for my sake.  I fight for love and peace and justice and beauty.  These are the things that bring color to the universe.  Without these, you have a bland shade of grey.  You have a sterile meaningless bunch of rocks.  You have never understood this because you see everything through pure logic and no emotions.”

Satan:  “When you created me, you thought that such a being as I am would be superior to one that could be swayed by emotions and feelings.  Now you criticize me for doing my job?”

God:  “I did not realize how monotonous and tedious the universe would be without feelings.”

Satan:  “It does not seem like you can have it both ways.  You want to create a world without evil and based on compassion and love and yet you give humans the ingredients that foment hatred and bigotry.”

God:  “Do you not think we have made any progress since the first humans were created?  I have infinite patience.  We can play the game for eons but I will win someday.”

Satan:  “And is it worth it?  How much pain and misery and suffering must you endure dealing with these humans?”

God:  “True, they have tried my patience at times.  But just when I might be willing to concede to you, I see justice and love blossoming some place and it makes the battle worth winning.  As their creator, I cannot turn my back on these humans.  There is no limit to my forgiveness.  I am not driven by logic as you are.  I am the mother who cannot give up on her children regardless of how many times they make mistakes.”

satan-imageSatan:  “But they never learn. They are shortsighted, petty, vindictive and greedy.  Do you really think they care about your teachings or precious commitment to love and peace?  They would rather fight wars and dominate others.  They even fight wars in your name.  Their religions scream for violence over other religions.  Their leaders preach victory over other nations.  Their minion’s rape and pillage in the name of some esoteric ideology.  They all believe they are superior to each other.  They send their own children to die in wars of so called freedom and liberation.  They abuse and murder their own spouses at alarming rates.  They teach their offspring at an early age to be intolerant of other races.  And they pray in your name for the power to be successful in all of these efforts.  They invoke prayers to you before murdering millions.  How can you listen to these prayers and want to help these hypocrites.”

God:  “Being in charge of Hell does not help you to see any positives in the universe.  You have a very difficult job.”

Satan:  “We make a good team.  You, the everlasting optimist, full of hope and love.  Me, the ultimate logician, ever ready to exact justice for evil done.”

Satan:  “They will destroy themselves anyway and then what.  Did you know that the earth was warming up at an alarming rate?”

God:  “Of course.”

Satan:  “It is not your doing, right?”

God:  “No, I have nothing to do with it.”

Satan:  “And yet they blame you for it.  The last thing in the world they want to admit is that it might be their fault.  That all of their pollution, oil burning, fossil fuel burning and carbon emissions is changing their climate.  They deny any responsibility for it.  I thought they would destroy the world with nuclear weapons, but they somehow avoided doing that.  Now, they are working to destroy it by overheating it.  I don’t think it will be long before the game is over.”

gods-voice-vs-satans-voiceGod:  “You count them out too fast.  The clock was close to 12 with nuclear weapons but as you noted, they carefully avoided destroying themselves.  They are often very shortsighted and many of them will never be long-term thinkers.  However, there are enough who care and who are passionate enough about others to help save humanity.  I can’t help being filled with astonishment at the love that humans frequently have for each other.”

Satan:  “Yes, but it always seems to entail some crisis to bring it out.”

God:  “That is true.  But it shows that there is hope.  And even if there is only 1 human being still alive who cares about others, that is enough for me.  The game will go on.”

Satan:  “Well, how about a cap of another 10,000 years. I am tired of being the gatekeeper of Hell and punishing evil and wrongdoers.  I do not have your patience.”

God:  “Done, we will give humanity another 10,000 years and see how they are doing then.”

Satan:  “I have a feeling we will be having this same conversation in another 10,000 years.”

Time for Questions:

What would you like to tell God if you could?  Do you believe in God?  Why or why not?  Does the concept of God make a difference in the world?  Why? For better or worse?

Life is just beginning.

“Satan, on the contrary, is thin, ascetic and a fanatical devotee of logic.  He reads Machiavelli, Ignatius of Loyola, Marx and Hegel; he is cold and unmerciful to mankind, out of a kind of mathematical mercifulness.  He is damned always to do that which is most repugnant to him: to become a slaughterer, in order to abolish slaughtering, to sacrifice lambs so that no more lambs may be slaughtered, to whip people with knouts so that they may learn not to let themselves be whipped, to strip himself of every scruple in the name of a higher scrupulousness, and to challenge the hatred of mankind because of his love for it–an abstract and geometric love.”
― Arthur KoestlerDarkness at Noon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facts, Data, Evidence and the Search for Truth – Part 5 – Roadblocks to the Truth

in-search-truth-title

If you have been following my series on searching for the Truth, you will now understand the role of Facts, Data and Evidence in Truth seeking.  Unfortunately, understanding these concepts is not enough.  Regardless of how many Facts or how much Data and Evidence you collect, it is no guarantee that you will find the Truth.  The problem is that there are some substantial roadblocks that often blind us to the Truth.  In the final part of my series on Truth Searching, I will review some of the major roadblocks that hinders or obscures our search for the Truth.

Overview:

A further constraint to Truth searching is that we almost always rely on one of four ways of knowing before we accept the Truth.  I have discussed these in previous blogs, but will briefly touch on them again to demonstrate how they both help and hinder our search for the Truth.

There are four general ways that have been identified which could be called methods or strategies for seeking and accepting the Truth.  Collecting Facts, Data and Evidence are generally indicative of rational thinking, but that strategy is not the only pathway to the Truth.  Many people rely on one or more of these other methods.  The four stratagems to Truth searching are:

  • By Authority (Someone in authority tells you what to believe)
  • By Experience ( Some life experience you had conditioned your thoughts)
  • By Rational Thinking (You have some Facts, Data or Evidence you trust)
  • By Tradition (Your tribe, family, culture etc., has always done it this way)

For a more detailed discussion of these four strategies, please see my blog “How Do I Know What to Believe”

There are strengths and weaknesses to each of these strategies.  By themselves, they are not roadblocks to the Truth but they carry the potential for obscuring the Truth.  These strategies become barriers to the Truth when they are distorted by the numerous biases and roadblocks.  The majority of the ones that I will discuss fall under the following headings:

  1. Denial
  2. Delusion
  3. Heuristics/Cognitive Biases
  4. Fallacies
  5. Ideology
  6. Emotional Biases

Denial:

andre-gide-novelist-quote-believe-those-who-are-seeking-the-truthDenial generally means that we refuse to accept any logic, evidence, experience, data, facts, authority or any other means of Truth finding.  It is an outright refusal to accept anything that will change the deniers mind.  One example of this is the current debate (at least among some) as to the issue of global warming.  Climate deniers argue that there is no change in the overall earth’s temperatures and that the warming is simply consistent with overall weather patterns in the earth’s history.  Those opposed to this view point to a considerable stockpile of evidence, facts and data to show that the weather changes are not part of a historical pattern but are indeed a change in past weather patterns.  Nevertheless, climate deniers refuse to change their minds.

Two questions arise from this issue.  First, why do they so consistently refuse to accept any logic?  Second, how can we change their minds?

The answer to the first question is simple.  People who deny the obvious are protecting their self-image.  For these people to change their minds is to admit that they are wrong.  This is not easy for many people.  An article by The Mojo Company identifies the following five reasons why people will not admit that they are wrong:  “Why is it so hard for people to admit they’re wrong?”

  • Defensiveness
  • Equating identity and actions
  • Pride
  • Experiencing shame instead of guilt
  • Believing apologizing equals absolution for everyone else

 Some other reasons that could be added to this list include:

  • Avoidance of negative emotions
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lifestyle protection

 This brings us to the second question:  “How can we change their minds.”  It should be quite obvious that no amount of rational or cognitive argument is going to be persuasive with such people.  Research into this question has been ongoing.  Here is one answer to the question:

“A comprehensive study published in 2015 in Nature surveyed 6,000 people across 24 countries and found that emphasizing the shared benefits of climate change was an effective way of motivating people to take action—even if they initially identified as deniers. For example, people were more likely to take steps to mitigate climate change if they believe that it will produce economic and scientific development. Most importantly, these results were true across political ideology, age, and gender.”  —- You need to get inside the mind of a climate change denier if you want to change it — Neha Thirani Bagri

What is our “take away” then in terms of dealing with someone who is engaged in Denial?  I think some points might be helpful to remember:

  1. You cannot argue them out of their positions.
  2. Facts, evidence and data are useless.
  3. Empathy for others may be impossible or fruitless.

My final answer to the second question based on recent research as well as years of fruitless arguments, is that the primary path to change for someone engaged in Denial is what might be called “Enlightened Self-Interest.”  Self-interest may be the only path to a productive solution.  Meaning that if you want to change someone’s mind, you might as well forget about it.  However, if you want to change someone’s behavior, then the solution is to find a path for them to change based on their own self-interest.  E.g. lower their taxes, create jobs for their children, raise their income levels, or improve their lifestyle.  Sad but true, much change in the world is not based on logic or facts or even empathy.

Delusion:

When we say that someone is delusional, it usually means that we think they are out of their mind or that they are engaging in some fantasy.  We ignore what they are saying because it is too remote from reality to even consider.  It is drastically over the top thinking.  The Google dictionary definition of Delusion is:

“An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.”

truth-and-liesThus, we typically ignore or give a pass to someone who is “delusional” because we think either they are sick or that they are not in a good state to make decisions.  No sane person would try to talk or argue a person who is delusional out of their Delusions.  However, what if the person is sane and they engage in Delusions?  This seems impossible but it happens all the time.  One example will suffice:  Anderson Cooper was interviewing some Trump supporters on his show.  He asked one young woman what it was she liked about Trump.  Her response was “He is just like us, except he is a billionaire.”  Millions of Americans seemed (if voting was any indication) to agree with this statement.  To any logical person looking at the background, upbringing and behavior of Trump, this statement would seem ludicrous.  It would seem to indicate an extreme case of delusional thinking.  But, by all standards of psychiatric analysis, this woman and her supporters are not insane.

I use the above example to show that delusional thinking is not only the property of insane people, but it is actually a common state for millions of people all over the world.  Here are some other examples:

  • Lottery ticket buyers
  • Gamblers
  • People who think that places like heaven and hell exist
  • People who believe in ghosts and spirits
  • People who love to believe in conspiracy theories
  • People who automatically accept every urban myth on the Internet
  • People who believe implicitly in horoscopes or astrology
  • People who believe implicitly in the power of science to save the world

Looking at my list, you have probably found yourself in one of the above groups.  In fact, most of the human race fits in one or more of the above examples.  But, you answer: “I am not delusional. Your system and concept is all wrong.  Everyone else does the same thing.  The casinos and churches are full of people who think just like I do.”  Yes, you are right.  Millions of people engage in delusions every day.  Delusions are often what helps us get through the day.  Delusions are fed by hope that some reality is going to change.  But if we consider a belief in a horoscope as a fact, we are delusional.  Facts, Evidence and Data all show that Horoscopes are phony, bogus, irrelevant superstitions that have no basis in reality.  My mother loved to read her horoscope and also to occasionally go to a fortune teller.  My mother was convinced that she would be rich some day and leave all her children a million dollars each.  When my mother died, all she left us were bills for her funeral.

“A delusion is a belief that is held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary. As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, or other effects of perception.”Wikipedia

Based on the above definition, I could argue that anyone who thinks they will win the Lottery is delusional.  If the evidence is a 100,000,000 million to one against you winning and you still buy a ticket, are you being logical or delusional?  If you believe in heaven and hell, but no one in the history of the human race has been there and back, are you being logical or delusional?  I state these points to demonstrate the utter impossibility of changing anyone’s mind who is delusional or who subscribes to some Delusion.  Whether it is you who are sane or your crazy cousin, anyone who is subscribes to some delusion is beyond rational experience and logic.  No amount of arguing will change your mind or your cousin’s mind.

“There is some wisdom in the adage not to attempt to argue a delusion away. By definition, delusions are tenaciously held despite presentation of contrary evidence. How certain are we of anything? How might you respond if someone told you, you are not who you believe yourself to be? Most people are likely to defend their belief about who they are and this is also true for delusions.”  — Responding therapeutically to disturbing beliefs, By Richard Lakeman © 2003

What is the take away then here?  Can we find a way to the Truth through a Delusion?  The simple answer is that we are all going to face people who have one or more delusions in their lives.  Whatever the Delusion they hold, it is the absolute Truth to them.  I do not believe there is any way you are going to talk or argue them out of it.  If anyone can find an antidote to delusional thinking, I hope you will share your solution in my blog comments area.

Heuristics:

In 1984, while I was in my Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, I discovered the book Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases by D. Kahneman and A. Tversky.  It was one of the most influential and important books I have ever read.  In 2002, Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on decision making.  Kahneman was one of the pioneers in the emerging discipline of Behavioral Economics.  This discipline would go on to show that the concept of rationality in economic decision making was severely flawed.

thomas-edisonThe basic premise of the work by Kahneman and others in his field is that while most of us try to be logical and rational, our decision making is often flawed by biases and heuristics that influence our decisions.  The book Judgment Under Uncertainty catalogs the major types of cognitive errors that we make and gives many examples of each.  One of the most common ones that many people recognize has been called the “Gamblers Fallacy.”  Let us say that you are rolling a dice.  The odds of any one number being rolled are 6 to 1.  So let us say that you roll four three times in a row.  What are the odds that you will roll a 4 on your next toss?  Higher or lower than 6 to 1?  Many if not most people would now assume the odds against rolling another four might be 30 or even 40 to one.  In fact, the odds for rolling a four on the next toss are still 6-1.  This fact would surprise many people.  Mentally, we confuse the odds of an individual toss with the odds of running a series.  The odds of rolling four in a row on a dice are much greater than the odds of rolling any particular number.  What are the odds of rolling a number four times in a row on a dice?  We can calculate it as follows:

There are 6 possible outcomes where the dice are all the same:

1-1-1-1
2-2-2-2
3-3-3-3
4-4-4-4
5-5-5-5
6-6-6-6

There are a total of 1296 outcomes for any four dice –> 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 = 1296.   So the probability is 6/1296 or 1/216.  In other words, the probability is over 200 to 1 against rolling any number four times in a row.  The probability of rolling a number on any particular throw though does not change.  It is still and always will be 6 to 1.

There are too many biases to list in this blog, in fact over a hundred different biases exist and more are being found on a regular basis.  Wikipedia has a list at:  “List of Cognitive Biases.”  This list is broken down into the following three categories of cognitive biases:

1  Decision-making, belief, and behavioral biases

2  Social biases

3  Memory errors and biases

There is a great deal of information on these biases but the key issues and thus questions that concerns us is how do these biases affect our search for the Truth and what can we do to overcome these biases?

The answer to the first question is simple.  They hide and distort the Truth from us.  If we misperceive the possibility or likelihood of anything happening, we fail to make accurate judgements.

The answer to the second question, whether or not we can overcome their biases can be summed up by the following reply: Yes and No.

Yes, we can provide information and education that can help to show the bias or error in their thinking.  Keep in mind that it will be hard for some people to accept what you are telling them.  For instance, in explaining the Gambler’s Fallacy, the more number oriented a person is the easier it will be for them to understand the fallacy.

No, you cannot change anyone’s bias with new information when you are talking about things that are outside their belief system.  They must have a framework in which to incorporate the Data, Evidence and Facts that you try to provide them.  Such frameworks vary in complexity but they can be taught.

Fallacies:

A fallacy is an error in reasoning.  However, so is a faulty heuristic; so how can we tell them apart?  In fact, I don’t know if you always can and I am not sure it really is important.  Looking at the online Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it states that:

“Researchers disagree about how to define the very term “fallacy.” Focusing just on fallacies in sense (a) above, namely fallacies of argumentation, some researchers define a fallacy as an argument that is deductively invalid or that has very little inductive strength.” 

No doubt many biases can fall in either category as a heuristic or a fallacy.  An error in reasoning or a bias can be due to many causes.  The common denominator to both categories is that we are talking about errors in cognition or cognitive biases rather than emotional biases.  You would think that would make these types of biases more subject to rationale argument but as I have noted above, that does not seem to be the case.  People hold on to their biases whether cognitive or emotional with an iron fisted tenacity.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists approximately 218 different fallacies.  Many of these, I confess to never having heard of.  It would probably take another Encyclopedia to catalog all of the reasons for the different fallacies.  I am surprised there are no Ph.D. degrees for Fallacy Finding.

quote-finding-the-occasional-straw-of-truth-awash-in-a-great-ocean-of-confusion-and-bamboozle-requires-carl-sagan-293275After even a slight perusal of these fallacies, you might be thinking: “Why bother, we can never find the Truth, there are too many roadblocks out there.”  It probably seems like a hopeless task, something akin to finding the Holy Grail or the Ten Commandments.  I admit that the recent Presidential election and its results would seem to support the invincible nature of stupidity and ignorance.  The world seems overwhelmed with those who would dwell in biases, bigotry and hypocrisy and have little interest in finding the Truth.  The Truth becomes whatever they are told or choose to believe.  The media parrots disinformation, misinformation and outright lies.  How can anyone find the Truth amidst this forest of propaganda and distortion?

Nevertheless, if I succumbed to total despair, I would not be writing this.  As the line goes:

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”  — Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

So, I have hopes that if even one person out there reading my blog has a second thought or an insight garnered by my somewhat tedious prose, I will be blest and perhaps have made a slight difference.

Ideology:

An ideology is something you believe in.  Dictionary.com defines an ideology as:

  1. The body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.
  2. Such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation.

truth-next-exitOne of the most unnerving but interesting books I have ever read was the book “True Believer” by Eric Hoffer.  This book explains the thinking or lack of thinking behind zealots, fanatics and what Hoffer calls “True Believers.”  After reading this book, it was clear to me that ideologies, whether left wing, right wing, fascist or even liberal could be dangerous.  The Greek Golden Mean “All things in moderation” kept coming to my mind.  A “True Believer” will not tolerate or listen to dissent or argument.  They are so convinced that their way is the only way that dialogue and discussion with them is fruitless.  In fact, many “True Believers” will happily kill you for their ideology.

Most ideologies seem to revolve around either religion or politics.  Probably one reason why people always say not to discuss these subjects with strangers.  The strong feelings that these subjects evoke have been the cause of much violence throughout history.  Many blame religious ideologies as the main cause for wars in history.  However, there is a dissenting view that says non-religious ideologies bear the blame for the most wars and the most deaths throughout history.

 “The truth is, non-religious motivations and naturalistic philosophies bear the blame for nearly all of humankind’s wars.  Lives lost during religious conflict pales in comparison to those experienced during the regimes who wanted nothing to do with the idea of God – something showcased in R. J. Rummel’s work Lethal Politics and Death by Government.”  — The Myth that Religion is the #1 Cause of War

People steeped in an ideology have natural blinders on to the Truth.  They are convinced that they already have the Truth and they have no interest in Truth seeking.  In the history of wars in the USA, we can see the impact of American ideology on the world.  We seem to be constantly involved in wars to spread Democracy and Free Enterprise.  We are blinded to the downsides of both these ideologies.  In fact, most Americans do not see them as ideologies but as virtues that they want to share with the rest of the world.

dont-keep-searching-for-the-truth-just-let-go-of-your-opinions-quote-1Furthermore, because our ideologies are so good, we cannot believe that anyone has the right to reject them.  We do not care if the rest of the world does not want to share them, we will bomb and kill you until you see how good our ideologies are.  We are totally closed minded in our belief that Democracy and Free Enterprise are truly universal virtues that the rest of the world must adopt.  We have become a nation of True Believers in the “American Dream.”

What is the antidote to Ideological Thinking?  Can we talk someone into seeing a new gestalt or world view?  I would never want to say it is impossible, but it is damn difficult.  Nevertheless, examples abound throughout history of people who have changed their mind.  Some examples in America include:

  • Abraham Lincoln (Believed that slavery was evil but changed his mind about what to do about it)
  • Malcolm X (Who once believed that all White people were devils)
  • George Wallace (Who believed in racial segregation)
  • Robert McNamara (Who believed in the value of the Vietnam War)
  • Barack Obama (Changed his position on Gay marriage

Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon believes that consistency of thought is not particularly a positive trait. It is better, even healthier in fact, to have an idea that contradicts one you had before.  Smart people constantly revise their understandings of a matter. They reconsider problems they thought they had solved. They are open to new points of view, new information, and challenges to their own ways of thinking.  — The Smart People Change Their Minds

Emotional Biases:

We have come to the last category in my list of obstacles to Truth seeking.  In many respects, this is the largest category in terms of biases and also encompasses the biases that are the most difficult to change.  Someone who has an emotional bias is usually beyond the pall of argument and rational dialogue.  To understand this, let us take the following example.  We have Chloe who is in love with Michael.  Chloe plans to marry Michael and her parents are dead against it.  Michael in their view is unreliable, untrustworthy and prone to anger and unpredictable acts.  They can see no reason why Chloe loves Michael.  Question:  What arguments or logic, or Facts, or Data or Evidence do you think they could bring forth to change Chloe’s mind?   If you answered NONE, you are in sync with my thoughts.  You have all heard themes similar to this:  “Love is blind despite the world’s attempt to give it eyes.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo

marcus-quoteEmotional biases are formed by experiences or ideas derived from each of the four categories of knowing and believing that I briefly discussed earlier. We can derive an emotional bias from a strong attachment to anything and it does not matter whether we have Facts, Data, and Evidence.  An emotional bias comes from the heart as opposed to a cognitive bias which comes from the brain.  Of course, in practice both sets of biases tend to overlap and support each other. Someone with a strong cognitive bias can become very emotional about their beliefs and someone with a strong emotional bias may tend to only accept Facts which support their bias.  In either case, we face the same difficulties with trying to get the individual to seek the Truth.  Notice, I did not say see the Truth.  Perhaps, some or more of what they already believe is the Truth or at least part of the Truth.

For instance, to return to Chloe and Michael.  Michael may indeed be all the things that Chloe’s parents believe about him but he may also be all the things that Chloe loves about him.  He may often be kind, thoughtful, generous and fun loving.  The Truth is seldom single faceted and is much more analogous to a multi-faceted diamond.  Think of Truth as having hundreds of shimmering glittering surfaces.  You turn it one way and you see some facets.  You turn it another way and you see other facets.  Some facets shine more than others.  Some are larger and more apparent than others.  You cannot see the Truth without seeing all of the facets.  That is what makes Truth seeking so challenging.  The number of facets in a diamond may be difficult to count but the number of facets in the Truth may be close to infinite.  Furthermore, unlike a diamond, the Truth keeps changing.  The Truth you may be seeking now will be a great deal different then the Truth you might find ten or twenty years from now.

In Conclusion:  Some final thoughts to share:

“A desire to know the truth does not endow one with the ability to understand or accept the truth.”  — Joseph Crosby Mecham

“Walk with those seeking truth… Run from those who think they have found it.” — Deepak Chopra

This has been a very long blog. Thank you for reading it.  I hope it has helped you to think about ways to seek and search for the Truth.  I was more certain when I started this blog that I could help describe a concrete definitive path to the Truth.  Writing this blog has made me realize how difficult the search is and the near impossibility of ever finding an absolute Truth about anything much less a concrete path to the Truth.

I have found one Truth for now though that I can accept and that is that we must try our best to keep an open mind and an open heart in our search for the Truth.  Perhaps I will change my mind about this in ten or twenty years. 🙂

Time for Questions:

When was the last time you searched for the Truth?  Did you find it?  If so, what helped you to find the Truth?  What roadblocks did you have to overcome?  What do you think would help more people to find the Truth?

Life is just beginning.

“We awaken by asking the right questions. We awaken when we see knowledge being spread that goes against our own personal experiences. We awaken when we see popular opinion being wrong but accepted as being right, and what is right being pushed as being wrong. We awaken by seeking answers in corners that are not popular.  And we awaken by turning on the light inside when everything outside feels dark.” — Suzy KassemRise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

“I may be wrong in regard to any or all of them; but holding it a sound maxim, that it is better to be only sometimes right, than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.” — Abraham LincolnSpeeches and Writings, 1832-1858

 

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