Strict adherence to any ideology is the very definition of rigid thinking. To accept a particular line of thought unflinchingly is to imply that your own wisdom is boundless. Contradicting this arrogant notion, however, are the boundless volumes of knowledge that can be found throughout the world. Libraries, museums, universities and individuals contribute to a dense network of knowledge. The existence of so much information that you may never learn suggests that no matter who you are, there is far more that you don’t know than you do know. Human understanding, the basis of any belief, is limited and flawed at best. History records the “Aha!” moments of various societies and the global community as a whole. That which was once considered to be old is brand new. Pre-existing conditions glimmer with a compelling new light when a gigantic paradigm shift occurs, bringing a new perspective to the global consciousness. These shifts in awareness and belief occur continually.
Science is a discipline built upon shifting beliefs. Scientists pursue, accept and reject concepts and theories with the purpose of acquiring more accurate knowledge. During the 16th century, the Copernican theory, which hypothesized that the earth revolves around the Sun, undermined the basic tenets of reality as espoused by the most learned scholars of the time. Moreover, this unsettling theory directly contradicted the teachings of the church. One Italian scientist, Giordano Bruno, was burned at the stake for his Copernican beliefs. Another Italian scientist, Galileo Galilei, served a life sentence of imprisonment after having been forced to renounce his belief in Copernican theories.
In the 19th century, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes faced opposition among his colleagues for asserting that hand washing could prevent the spread of infection among patients. In order to accept the concept of contagious illness, the medical community had to also accept their role in the spread of disease among their patients – a tough pill to swallow. Welcome or not, the truth does emerge. Further undiscovered truths await future dissention and debate as scientists decode the heretofore hidden information contained in the human genetic code.
Examples of the shifting nature of reality are also apparent in the historical evolution of accepted behavior. Societal concepts of normalcy change relatively frequently in the context of history. Slavery was abolished less than 150 years ago. Exploitative child labor was outlawed by the United States in just the last century. In the current era, human enslavement and forced labor are generally considered to be abhorrent, inhumane and illegal.
Arguably, the most significant shift that one may experience will be personal and invisible to others. Discovering a new interest, competing successfully and many other internal experiences can stimulate new ways of thinking and consequently open new worlds to the fortunate seeker.
Re-evaluating your beliefs should not be viewed as disrespect or disregard of what you have been taught. Each of the teachers we encounter in life – parents, cable television programs and university professors – can only dispense the knowledge which they have acquired. This knowledge is inherently both insightful and flawed. Teachers can only teach you what they know or what they believe they know. You have to take it from there.
The foundation of all of your core beliefs could be wrong. Are you flexible enough to accept that? Are your beliefs contained in a fortified stronghold? Is your identity tied to the notions you have come to accept? There are those who remain in the past while much of the world has moved on to accept a different collective reality. Bigoted individuals cling to one another and to irrational beliefs in an effort to support a false sense of self. Totalitarian regimes cling to power in order to stifle the inevitable tide of the collective will. How do you respond to new information that is incompatible with your internal framework of knowledge? Think.
Tiye Baldwin is a Daily Nexus staff writer.