When I was young (18 or so), like most people my age, I believed I knew everything. Like all 18-year-olds, I had it all figured out and I was infallible. I was positive that what I believed, what I thought, was law.
Now I’m 29, and I don’t know anything. Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef, world traveler, and unforgiving critic of inauthenticity and dishonesty, once said, “The older I get and the further I go, the less I know.” This becomes my mentality more every day.
As I get older and learn more about people, I also learn more about the not-so-simple nature of right and wrong. I read an interview today about Bourdain and how his experiences have shaped his beliefs and his perception of right and wrong, and it got me to thinking about my beliefs and how other people find them wrong and in need of change.
I’ve been a lot of places, met a lot of people, and done a lot of things in my life. Experience, as I’m fond of C. S. Lewis saying, is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn. I’ve learned that the simple nature of right and wrong that I grew up with (namely, what I believe and do is right and what others believe and do is wrong) is more of a shaky opinion than a solid truth. I’ve lived near poverty-stricken South Baltimore and north of highly political Washington, D.C.; I’ve seen post-Katrina New Orleans and Gulfport, MS; I’ve met people from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan; I’ve read the Koran and found no evidence of “killing the infidel;” I’ve listened to both sides of the political story, and found the side that feels right and makes the most sense to me.
All of these people, experiences, and places have shaped my perspective. Some people find my beliefs and ideas to be patently false and in need of changing. While I understand that they fervently believe what they believe, our experiences are not the same; in fact, some of them are complete opposites.
I have a rule about discourse and arguments involving volatile issues such as these: you have 3 minutes to convince me of your position and to get me to come over to your side. Sometimes, I am swayed and convinced; other times, I am not. However, when I’m told that I’m wrong and that my beliefs need changing without good reason, you forfeit your 3 minutes. I am open-minded about people, beliefs, and ideas; I am, after all, an academic and an intellectual. I crave discourse and learning so that I might grow into a better person and better understand the nature of life, people, and the world. However, this kind of forced/coerced change is akin to trying to convert somebody who already has religion. It just isn’t happening, especially when the conversation’s already happened several times on its own with the same results, which is in line with Einstein’s definition of insanity.
Emerson said, “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.” If my beliefs and perspective are to change, it will come from within, not from without, regardless of its origins. It’s happened before, and it will happen again, but forcing the issue makes it less likely. Allowing change to happen on its own is the path of least resistance. In the meantime, as Shakespeare said, let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.