Friday, January 5, 2018

Culture quote of the day: Maimonides on our tendency to cling to our opinions

"[People] like the opinions to which they have become accustomed from their youth; they defend them and shun contrary views: and this is one of the things that prevent [them] from finding the truth, for they cling to the opinions of habit." --Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed

Do you think this is true?

Can we see the reality – or at least the possibility – of this tendency in ourselves? Can we recognize ways in which we simply defend what we are accustomed to, and resist other perspectives?

It seems to me that Maimonides is referring to an aspect of the human tendency to be “ethnocentric” – to accept the worldview, perspectives, values of the people we grow up with and live among; in fact, for those views and values to be so deeply rooted that we aren’t aware that they are anything other than “how the world is.”

If Maimonides is right – and I think he is – how do we overcome this tendency? How do we escape the inertia of living with our customs, habits, traditions, patterns - in short, with our ethnocentrism (the tendency to see the world straightforwardly from the perspective of our people, and believe the world “really is” that way)? How do we escape the tendency to recoil from anything that is new and different and strange to us? How do we develop an orientation toward getting out of our territory, our "bubble," and setting out on a search for truth/reality that leads us into the "territory" (literal and figurative) of others? Can we develop the ability to see the tendency that Maimonides puts his finger on, and to work against it?

A starting point is to recognize that we might be clinging to “opinions of habit” and shutting out other views, and that we might be missing some aspect of “truth” (or reality) through ths tendency. A next step is to desire to grow beyond our current opinions and ways of understanding, in search of a broader perspective, a view of truth informed by the opinions and experiences of others. And if we think that is possible, and desire it, we can take the further step of engaging in relationship with those who are different from us, those who have different experiences and opinions, different perspectives and understandings.

A good friend of mine, author Mazhar Mallouhi, opened his novel “The Long Night” with the statement, “Those who never reconsider their ideas love their ideas more than they love the truth.” I think this is another way of saying what Maimonides is getting at in this quote. So the question is, which do I want more – my (current) ideas and opinions, or a more full perspective on truth (reality)?

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