Posted October 31, 2017 in Monthly News

Addiction to Being Right and Universal Recovery

In 1991, Edward de Bono published a book that seems to fit the tenor of current times: I Am Right, You Are Wrong. We (humans and probably all mammals) become addicted to patterns of thought. When patterns produce desired results, they are reinforced, making it more likely we will repeat the pattern, which reinforces it—making it even more likely we will use that same pattern again.

This style of thinking works well for a lot things, and it saves the energy we would expend if we had to find a new way of doing things we do with regularity: taking a shower, eating breakfast, driving to work, and so on. Practice does, in fact, make perfect. The process works especially well for physical actions: musicians have to practice (a lot) to get good at playing music.

Problems occur, however, when we are in the realm of ideas. Dr. Richard Bandler has said, “Memories are like holograms: You recreate in your head the whole image of something which isn’t there.” The memory of eating breakfast, for example, is not the same as eating breakfast. We can imagine eating all we want, but if we don’t actually eat something, we will starve. Unlike other animals, humans often confuse what’s inside their minds with external reality. In so doing, we end up arguing with reality. As Byron Katie has said, when you argue with reality, you lose—but only every time.” (See Loving What Is.) At some point, the realm of ideas needs to intersect with the realm of reality. Some of our ancestors reportedly argued about the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin.

We like to think we are beyond that kind of argument, but current politics—both national (US) and international—suggest that, although the subjects may be different, the nature of many discussions hasn’t changed much. In some ways, all arguments (and all wars) are religious in nature. Christians and Muslims have fought countless wars. The same is true for Catholics and Protestants. Even Buddhist sects have been known engage in violence in support of or against highly similar beliefs. In Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift used the metaphor of opening soft-boiled eggs, with the big-enders going to war against the little-enders.

Such differences seem important at the time. Generations of Protestants and Catholics went to war with a battle cry basically the same as the title of de Bono’s book, “I am right; you are wrong.” Currently, we have similar arguments going on all around the world. In some place, we have actual war. In the States, Democrats and Republicans have the same kinds of arguments for basically the same reasons. Both sides think the other has been influenced by “fake news.” As best I can tell, the same is true for political discourse elsewhere, with the possible exception of those countries placing extreme restrictions on public speech.

If you’re old enough to have studied history in school, you probably learned that Galileo got into trouble with the Church (essentially the government in those days) for claiming that the Earth was in orbit around the sun, when the reverse was thought to be true. Galileo was arrested and forced to recant. He managed to continue his research in secret, however. Today, most people recognize that Galileo was correct, although a significant number continue to hold beliefs more similar to those of Medieval Christianity than to those of modern physics. Given the nature of most arguments, one of the most important questions to ask is, “How do you know?” That question basically addresses the concept of evidence procedure. If you think something is “fake news,” how—exactly—did you arrive at that conclusion? The idea is to make sure that your feelings and beliefs are rooted in reality.

That isn’t always easy, of course. Our problems today are more complex than trying to determine whether the Earth revolves around the sun or vice versa. Global warming would be an example. Are humans responsible for the current climate change, or are other factors responsible? You may have a belief one way or the other, but what evidence supports your belief? What evidence detracts from it? A good decision is based on an honest evaluation of the evidence. It is all too easy to become addicted to a particular point of view, especially when people we care about share the same view. Think how hard it must have been for Galileo to disagree with almost everyone he knew and the most important political institutions of his time.

Byron Katie is the creator of the self-inquiry method called “The Work” and the author of Loving What Is. Katie says reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it. Her suggestion? “I don’t let go of concepts—I question them. Then they let go of me.”

Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan Friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, published a podcast titled “Contemplation and Action on the Road of Recovery.” Rohr’s message begins with the radical truth that we are all addicted. He says the universal addiction we share is our addiction to our way of thinking. He says, “Literal-ism is the lowest level of meaning, the least level of meaning. Literal-ism gets you nowhere.”

Whether taking something personally, literally, or insisting our way is the “right” way, addiction to our way of thinking is one of the most important things we can choose to give up. What would that be like? Recovery.

Recovery is simply this: union with reality.

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