“Nothing is exactly as it seems, nor is it otherwise.” Alan Watts
Here is a reality that many of us forget: Everyone is partially correct. Every theory, belief, and philosophy…partially correct. There is a Zen saying I think describes this: “As soon as you speak of something, you have missed the mark.” I think this applies to our perception of reality as well. When it comes to our understanding of reality, our guides, and just about everything we never really hit the bull’s eye. Close may be good enough, but if you think about it just hitting the target board may be all we can hope for. In many ways, we fill the gaps of what we don’t know with a bit of faith, and sometimes we fill the gaps simply by ignoring them, by not paying attention. When reality doesn’t match our model, we ignore it. Then, when something matches our own theories, we notice and we take it as “proof” that we are right. This tendency is called confirmation bias. We tend to only remember evidence that supports what we already think we know.
I have to fight this. For a more complete understanding, I need to pay attention to all of reality, even the stuff that might prove me wrong. This is difficult to do, to be truly open-minded, a real philosophical scientist. If I can keep my beginner’s mind open, I may discover something and gain more clarity on my understanding of reality. You and I can increase our chances of seeing things as they truly are when we are more open to possibilities outside of our own dogma. Then we’ll know “the truth.” But how do we know we are right?
Admittedly, that is why I mainly borrow from three main philosophies, Zen, Stoicism, and Objectivism as I form my view of reality, not to mention the countless other views of the world that I research. One just isn’t enough. I guess I am the epitome of eclectic. These philosophies overlap in many ways, but in many others one philosophy might answer, “How should I live?” much more directly. There are some gaps in each of these philosophies’ concept of how things are. Maybe Stoicism has it 80% right, I don’t know. For all I know, the Stoics might have had it 80% wrong. I concentrate on three major philosophies, but of course there are so many others! There are so many more partially correct philosophies out there. Complicating things is the fact that a Stoic, Buddhist, Objectivist or any other view of the world may be 95% right for me, and completely wrong for you.
What an abominable sin of conceit I commit, when I think I know better than others. Even worse, that I know something for sure. I have fallen into this trap again and again, despite what I consider to be steady vigilance against it. I’ll go on and on about how I just might not be right, just like I am doing now, and yet in the next moment I will tell my wife that she is wrong without even considering deeply what she said. I will condemn someone (almost always to myself) for their silly beliefs about religion, politics, science or whatever. I will condemn them without considering that they most likely are at least partially right. However, at least my condemnation is momentary, and never violent. Imagine clinging so tightly to your “true” philosophy, that all others are excluded. Imagine “hating” another philosophy, so much so that violence is necessary to rid opposing views.
Some reflection now on this partially correct quality of all things might be necessary. The awareness that what you believe is only partially right is essential. Even if by chance, your world view is 95% right, it’s still 5% wrong…partially correct. The greatest of human strife: wars, murder, even plunder and theft, come about when we have convinced ourselves that our view is 100% right, justifiable not only to defend to the death, but also justifying aggression on those that are wrong. The minor offense is to think we are 100% right for moments in our lives, but the major sin, the mortal one is to attach to our view with 100% certainty. This is where evil finds its way into the world.
Too often, too many think they are right, rather than partially correct. The greatest difficulty in our relations is not in that there is right and wrong, but in that we are unable to see that we are all partially correct and mostly wrong much of the time.
Of this I am sure…I think.