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The journey to enlightenment is one of many steps.

I clearly remember a day, more than ten years ago (perhaps closer to twenty), when I as a young adult was browsing books on a shelf in Exclus1ve Books. I came across a book which had been written by a church pastor, and which argued in favour of the rights of gay people in the church.

I browsed through the book with curiosity, as any sensible person does when first encountering an interesting new viewpoint for the first time, and I recall tut-tutting to myself…not with righteous anger, but with sadness. The author, I was sure, was well-intentioned but misguided. I specifically remember feeling sympathy for whatever life experience had led him to his misguided conclusions.

I must state at this point that I unequivocally support people’s right to their sexual orientation – gay people may be less common than straight people in the same way that redheads are less common that brunette’s or left handed people are less common than right handed people – but their preference is every bit as natural and normal as everyone else’s.

At the time, however, the concept of romantic relationships between two people of the same sex was genuinely new, interesting, and wrong (to me).

A catalyst for change

Years later, I attended a workshop  at my church. The speaker, I know today, was exceptionally ‘liberal’ by the standards of my then-church, and he would arguably not have been afforded a platform to share his views, if the full extent of his views had been known. But they were not, and during the course of the weekend-long session he raised a number questions which gently challenged views I had held for a long time.

His strategy was excellent. He did not challenge outright those backwards and conservative views (which certainly ‘deserved’ to be challenged). He didn’t even offer alternative views. He merely highlighted certain key assumptions, and asked how one might see the world if those assumptions were understood differently. It was the subtlest of approaches.

And the reason I admire his strategy was, as I’ve implied, that outright conflict with the views he challenged would have probably have prevented any opportunity to effect real change, and would certainly have made my own road to personal enlightenment that much longer. People are rarely excited to engage with people who disagree with them outright.

I can see clearly now the gay is gone (Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for.)

That weekend led to quite an extensive process of reevaluating my assumptions, and over the course of a year or two, with the (cupboard?) door opened, I reformulated a number of ideas that I had held for so long without question.

My personal investigations into the topic of gay relationships, for example, led me to the religious tolerance website. I make no endorsement or criticism of the website as a whole, but it presented an excellent and unbiased side-by-side presentation of all the arguments for and against same-sex relationships in the religious context, as objectively as possible. It may be helpful to you, if indeed the religious perspective is your reason for objecting to such things (as they usually are): http://www.religioustolerance.org/homosexu.htm

In short (by description, not as a process) – I once thought that being gay was bad, and then someone (gently) gave me a reason to question my assumptions, and I changed my mind after analyzing the data for myself.

I have not forgotten that process, and recall it frequently, for it provides two useful insights that I can apply every day.

The first lesson is this: Despite being utterly convinced that I was right about something, it turned out that I was wrong. Therefore, I should remember that even though I am utterly convinced about something today, I might be wrong again. Therefore, I should take more time to listen for the truth in the words of people who disagree with me, rather than merely looking for opportunity to prove them wrong.

The second lesson is this: Even when I am (probably) right, and someone else is (probably) wrong, becoming “enlightened” happens as a journey of many steps rather than as a single moment of clarity. I should be patient with those who are not as far along in that journey as I am. Even when all the evidence is presented clearly (and it rarely is), it takes time to assimilate that information.

Hate the idea, not the idealist. Idearist. Idea-person…

I intend to explore these ideas in more detail at a later time, but for now I only wish to summarize the point of this personal story as follows. People are frequently too hostile in their disagreements. To appropriate a common religious idea – hate the idea, not the holder of the idea.

Enlightenment is a process, and no matter how justified and ‘correct’ your view, it may be more effective to create context to challenge bad ideas than to direct hostility at the people who hold those ideas.


P.S. And what do you know…the unnamed speaker I mention in my story has a name, and that name is Alan Storey, whose Daily Maverick article I ran across between writing this article and publishing it. http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2015-05-26-south-africas-uncelebrated-pentecost/#.VWRMKk-qpBd

How about that?

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Octavo 17 June 2015, 10:16 am

    The more invested a person is, emotionally, in an idea, the more vociferously it will be defended. This is a human tendency that is incredibly hard to recognise and deal with and it does indeed take a talented speaker to get people to reevaluate their closely held beliefs.

  • Hermann 19 June 2015, 9:45 am

    I agree that current beliefs, prejudice and opinions a person holds are more readily be re-evaluated if the discussion is based on fact and is non personal. If any discussion of different views on a subject are challenged aggressively it is likely to be vigorously defended.
    After all, the views and opinions we hold are very much a product of our cultural upbringing and early life experiences and what we continue to be “fed” by the media and the world around us as well as personal experiences.
    Taking all of the above into account to modify my thinking the first step is to be open minded and the willingness on my part to change my point of view. For me that would have to be the first step. If somebody cannot take that step the only steps that will be taken are those that would lead towards further justifying current behaviour and thinking.
    Also I often argue that a lot of my thinking and behaviour is influenced by my genes passed on from previous generations. I have not checked if there is any scientific proof of that!
    You chose the example of “gay” but it could have been on any topic. Some would be easy while others are almost impossible. So for me to learn to be “tolerant” on issues on which I am stubborn will be more effective or appropriate than changing my opinion and personal thinking on that issue.
    But to become “tolerant” in itself is a big step forward. I do consider myself “enlightened” but again I often question myself on that too. I often take one step forward and two steps back!

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