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We are not our ideas

You are not your ideas

People tend to identify themselves with their ideas. This is ubiquitous and incorrect; as it can never lead to a complete understanding. Only when we divorce ourselves from our original ideas, so that we can look back on them objectively, do we get two very important results. The first is the realization that you are not your ideas (so what are you?); and the second, that your first belief probably doesn’t hold water.

To begin this step, it is useful to realize that rationalization is central to natural human thought. We experience things and then shove those experiences into our beliefs, shaving off the bits that don’t conform to what we believe. I just listened to a young lady rationalize why she served a religious mission. Why did she have to justify it? That would be that her expectations did not line up with her experiences. So, to hold on to the belief that “well, I’m out here for a reason. So what’s the reason?” – she had to invent a new reason in order to maintain her belief in having a purpose. Then she said the common phrase: “I’m glad I had my experiences because without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today”. I hear this all too frequently. It is practically a tautology! This is nothing more than justification of belief; an expression of confirmation bias.

When ideas seem no longer justifiable, we may feel personally attacked. An alternative approach is to begin analysis of that belief. By divorcing ourselves from our ideas, we can stay sane when our core beliefs are discovered to be illusions. The steps you should take to remain quite intact as a person are as follows:

1.) When you find yourself defending an idea, ask yourself, “Why am I defending this idea? I am not this idea.”

2.) Ask yourself, “Well, is that idea really true?” Then see if you can poke holes in the idea. Do you really believe it is true, and if so, why? Did someone tell you this, and are you buying in to what they told you? Do a little research and find out for yourself.

3.) You will often find that ideas contain a nugget of truth, wrapped in superstitions and traditions. What is that nugget of truth, if there is one? Perhaps the idea was nothing more than a social fabrication. However, if there is truth in the idea, keep that truth. You should find yourself no longer unconsciously engaging in the traditions associated with it.

In conclusion, I encourage you to reflect on all of your ideas and beliefs and find out for yourself if they accurately model reality. We can learn as much as we can within our own boundaries of perception; but those boundaries can be pushed and expanded. Never stop discovering!

This article was largely inspired by what should probably be mandatory reading for all levels:
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson