Friday, January 14, 2011

We Just Want To Know

Humans have three seemingly inseparable characteristics that both amaze and baffle me.  I am amazed by our insatiable desire to know everything that could possibly be known about virtually anything.  Of course, curiosity is not limited to humans.  Anyone who has ever been owned by a cat has witnessed unbridled curiosity.  Especially as kittens, they can spend hours exploring and investigating the world around them.  This tendency appears in the young of most animals to one degree or another and is probably related to some sort of survival instinct.  Humans, however, have this characteristic in spades.  This is aided by our ability to conceptualize what we want to know and communicate to others what we have learned. 

The results of these abilities are incredible.  At this point, we have pointed the Hubble telescope into the heavens and seen galaxies billions of light years away.  We have developed viable theories about quantum physics and appear to understand the very essence of the phenomenal world.  We have developed marvelous technology that enables doctors to work miracles and the average person to instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the planet.  Our potential to learn and apply that knowledge in practical ways seems limitless.

Nevertheless, what absolutely baffles me are the two evil step-sisters of our desire to know, a need to be “in the know” and a need to be “right” about everything.  Hundreds of years ago it seems that the desire to be in the know was typically concentrated in the village busy-body/gossip.  As technology grew, this tendency broadened.  No doubt the day after the printing press was invented the local newspaper was printed sporting a brand new gossip column.  When cell phones became prevalent, people could be seen all over the place with a phone glued to their ear.  Now we have the social networks providing voluminous information about the minute details of people’s lives. 

I think that the social networks can be a wonderful tool.  In fact, I have a Facebook account.  But please, do we really need to know that your dog just pooped on the rug, or that you are dying to have a Dr. Pepper, or what color shoes you just bought?  For those who want to be in the know, this is a golden age.  However, I suspect that before long we will be hearing about a new condition requiring professional therapy, social network obsessive disorder (SNOD).  Its chief symptoms will be a failure to perform normal daily activities due to excessive use of the computer and an inability to relate to other humans in a face-to-face setting.

Although satisfying the desire to be in the know can consume a great deal of time and energy, it is relatively harmless.  The same cannot be said about the other step-sister.  Those who always want to be right range from merely being abrasive to being lethal.  The root of the problem is that too frequently people are unable to distinguish between fact, belief and opinion.  While it may be possible for someone to be right about facts, right or wrong, people are entitled to their own beliefs and opinions unless they lead to behavior that infringes on the rights of someone else.  Yet beliefs and opinions are the areas that generally cause the greatest conflicts.

An insistence on being right runs the gamut of our social relationships.  At the personal level, this tendency can strain or even sever friendships and family ties.  Within a society, it can lead to the thought police insisting that we be PC in our speech.  At the governmental level, it can lead to oppression and even war.  Even a casual review of history and current events will produce an inordinate list of conflicts related to this inclination.

It seems to me that this problem is related to some sort of personal insecurity.  Is it possible that people like this need others to agree with them in order to establish their sense of worth?  Or, is their concept of the world so rigid and fragile that conflicting opinions will cause their house of cards to tumble?  It’s hard to tell what the underlying cause is, but the phenomenon is ubiquitous.

It would be wonderful if we could pass a law that prevented people from insisting on being right about everything, but we would have to convince the majority of the legislators that we were right about passing the law, and implementing it would be a nightmare.  That just sounds like way too much work.  So, as I share my observations, I’m just going to look out for that tendency in myself and not insist that I am right.  This is merely an invitation to consider what is presented here. 

I’m pretty sure that I’m right about that.


  1. "It seems to me that this problem is related to some sort of personal insecurity. Is it possible that people like this need others to agree with them in order to establish their sense of worth? Or, is their concept of the world so rigid and fragile that conflicting opinions will cause their house of cards to tumble? It’s hard to tell what the underlying cause is, but the phenomenon is ubiquitous."

    i appreciate you using me as an example in your blog, although i think i should get some sort of footnote for this paragraph. you really captured what was my mindset, and let me confirm for you that insecurity was very much the motivation. my own personal house of cards was religion and doctrine, they gave me a sense of belonging and made me feel special. instead of using religion to get closer to God, it became a wall between us. any one or anything offering conflict to my house of cards was a threat and put me on the defense. there is much i could say on this, stuff about denial, legalism, fear, and other such things that guided my life, but i will just say that my house of cards tumbled to the ground and remains there for now. i don't even know where all the cards are now, people always said i didn't play with a full deck, guess they were right.

  2. You are incredibly brave to share that in this venue. My hope is that the ideas shared here will help you find construction materials that are more substantial and that you will be able to build a dwelling in which you find genuine security and peace.

  3. My familiar world came to an end with a confession from my mother that she should have spent more time focusing on loving as God loves and not trying to conform people or attacking people who did not believe the same. We are all designed different therefore our ideals will be different, we won't be right all the time and our relationship we establish with God will be different. Each experience gives me a new way of seeing God and what he means to me. I am no longer a clone in my religion which makes me feel so out of place in this world. I do not feel the same as others and think the same which causes me to be seen as a backslider. I am just trying to get to know God for myself.

  4. i've found reality seems to be wrought with paradox.. this is just another example. how can we have faith if we aren't sure of something, but how can our faith grow if we are so sure of something that we don't allow ourselves to expand beyond our certainty?

    put in another way. Just believing in God is a statement to ourselves and the world that we are sure about something. Just as not believing in God is the same kind of statement. But which one is right? Is wrong to choose either? Additionally, stating that we should be allowed to expand our view of reality, isn't that in itself a statement of certainty? Just as much as believing that we should box ourselves into a certain narrow dogma?

    In Buddhism there is much discussion about the avoidance of attachment, to material worldly things, as well as beliefs. The idea springing from this is that we will never endure the suffering that comes from disappointment and blown expectations if we can maintain such a world view. In a more positive interpretation, we strive to see the beneficial potential in all things, without holding preconceived notions about what is good or bad. But this is very idealistic, of course, and is generally not a world view that comes easily without serious determination, practice and growth. Which means commitment to this idea, which means feeling like we are right enough about something (this Buddhist dogmatic perspective of detachment) to commit our lives to it. Paradox.

  5. It’s too bad that we can’t communicate with butterflies. It would be interesting to know how awkward they feel when they first learn to fly. I wonder if there is any lingering desire to crawl around on the ground. When they see other cocoons, do you think they recognize that there are caterpillars in transition within them? I wonder if they catch any grief and criticism from other caterpillars that are still earthbound. You know, things like, “What do you think you’re doing? Get down here right now! Why are you wearing those ridiculous wings? You were born a caterpillar, so try acting like one and stop embarrassing us.”

  6. Exactly. It's probably likely that Butterflies believe that having wings is the only right way to be and are preaching to the caterpillars to get with the program. Whereas the caterpillars just think the Butterflies are right "wing" nut jobs.

    On a more serious level of metaphor, this seems to demonstrate the inevitability of "evolving" to a higher (ie. flying?) life form. Is spiritual evolution inevitable? I think only in a cyclical world view of individual existence encompassing the idea of reincarnation is such a notion possible. Never give up hope.

    "If a man dies, will he live again?" - Job 14:14

  7. I suppose that if a betterfly only has a right or left wing, it would explain why they just go in circles.

    I plan to talk about spiritual evolution in a future posting. I think it is an interesting possibility.

  8. perhaps then, "correct" wing, keeping the idea "right" in line with the topic of this post.

    I look forward to that discussion. It's my hope to become convinced some day that all the struggles of this life are not for nothing.

  9. I have a couple of other postings I want to make before I address that topic, but it is on the list.

  10. spiritual evolution? no way, i don't believe in evolution, i believe in creation, yes, creation, therefore i have now tuned you out. and if that isn't enough i will JUST TYPE LOUDER THAN YOU!!! AND I AM SO SURE OF MY BELIEF THAT I WILL NOT ONLY COMPLETELY DISREGARD ANYTHING THAT YOU SAY FROM HERE ON OUT BUT I AM ALSO PREPARED TO HURL INSULTS AT YOU!!!! YOU SEE THAT? FOUR EXCLAMATION POINTS!! I TOLD YOU I WAS SURE ABOUT THIS!! I! AM! RIGHT!! YOU! ARE! WRONG!!!!

  11. how was that? too subtle? actually i do look forward to that discussion, i have some thoughts on that. what was once a ridiculous concept to me now seems not only plausible, but more credible.

  12. for me I don't know if it's credible, but it sure sounds nicer than the "you've got THIS LIFE to get it right, or else" idea. if THAT's the case, I'm pretty much out of luck! I'd rather come back as a cockroach and then maybe get another shot in a million years than spend eternity in perpetual torment with no appeals process. but I just don't know

  13. that is not quite how I see it, but I will hold my comments until our guru does that blog....

  14. it's certainly complicated. i have a vague notion of all the energy in the universe (which cannot be either created or destroyed, according to physics) is tied up in all this stuff we call matter, wherein it's highest evolved state is sentient life. There are ways matter can be converted back to energy, enter E=mc2. You can burn stuff, split an atom, or who knows what. Another way would theoretically be for sentient life to evolve spiritual to the extent that the need for physical form becomes obsolete, at which point, we too, become energy. So the idea of the evolution of the universe might be that when it's all said and done all the matter will have been at long last converted to energy, at which time there will be exactly the right amount of energy in it's non-matter state to fill every single bit of the whole universe uniformly. It's at this point that all beings, all things, are unified as one. The ultimate evolution with the benefit of all the zillions of lifetimes of sentience accumulated into that final stage. the ultimate consciousness. wherein we finally do become one with eachother, and God. Inseperable. No exclusions. Energy (and therefore matter) never being created or destroyed. something like that. it would seem to come close to a popular world view these days (and in Buddhism) that all things are really one thing, and that boundaries and individuality are an illusion.