We disagree with one another a lot these days, but I think I’ve found three sentences we can all say, “Yes, that’s true,” to:
1) We are all born.
2) We all die.
3) In between, we operate each of our lives based upon individual belief systems, which in themselves are loosely or tightly based upon larger, more organized group systems.
Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Agnostic, Atheist — there are a lot of options for believing, and subdivisions within each system. Twenty people in a room, discussing their way of looking at things, leads to a hum of activity; there are nearly 7 billion of us.
We will never agree. That’s not the point.
The point is this: we all believe in something, because no human mind is a vacuum. (I know; I’ve met some pretty apparently empty-cranium types myself; generally I’m driving behind them; but seriously, even these people think.)
Since we are going to believe in something, it’s crucial that we take time to figure out what it is, what factors are influencing this belief, and follow up on it.
If there’s a Holy Book involved, do we ever really read it? — for ourselves, not in a small group, not with a workbook at our side, not prompted to specific conclusions by someone in a suit, with a theological degree. Some books, like the Bible, bear the blood of martyrs on them, who died so that we could have this precious resource in our own language and in our own homes. We can honor these people by using our ability to independently read and analyze, and in the process figure out what it was that people in authority were so afraid that we find out.
If we don’t believe in a Holy Book, great — what do we believe in, and why?
Whatever we believe, we can ask ourselves, who or what influences us? Whose voice do we inadvertently follow?
If we don’t ask ourselves these questions, we find ourselves subconsciously running our lives in accordance with the belief systems of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Oprah, Ben Affleck, Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, they go on and on — not bad people but noisy ones, who because they can do one or more things well (interestingly, act and talk), are accorded space in the public arena for their opinions on everything.
Worse, we absorb the opinions of nameless people through newspaper articles, magazine spreads, 20-second video clips on the evening news with the announcer interpreting what we see, statistics from purportedly independent studies, proclamations from federal and state agencies — all to influence, or overtly direct, what we eat, what medications we introduce into our body, whether or not we get a flu shot, how we view gay marriage, if we are confident enough to sit down every day, with a book, and teach our own young child to read.
(One of my favorite television commercials of the last century involved a man in a white coat announcing, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Nowadays, this isn’t seeming so absurd anymore.)
Some things — it is strongly implied — are too big and too complex for ordinary mortals to think about: our escalating debt, health care, terrorism, unemployment — and the experts — the economists, the medical establishment, the scientists, the political arena, not to mention A-List celebrities — will do the serious thinking, speaking, and doing for us.
If we make no other resolution for 2013, let it be this: Find out what we believe — and why — and act upon it.
This will involve asking a lot of questions, namely of ourselves, but that’s okay, because when we ask a question inside our mind, there’s nobody but ourselves to make fun of our asking it. And the more we allow ourselves to ask questions, the better we get at it, and someday, we voice aloud the questions we have pondered in our head:
“But the Emperor’s not wearing any clothes, is he?”
In 2013, figure out what you believe, and why.
Speaking of 2013, this is my last Middle Aged Plague post until then. I am taking a two-week break to enjoy Christmas and New Year’s with my family. I wish you a Merry, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and I hope that you are able to spend meaningful time — even if it’s on Facebook — with the people who mean the most to you.