“You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
I am trying to keep that in mind more and more these days. One of the main concepts behind Buddhism is to hold no preferences, and thus to have no strong, set-in-stone opinions. To keep an open mind and to be able to hear and process other points of view is an ideal towards which to strive; always walking into a situation with the understanding that you might be wrong is the best way to keep learning and become more right.
Of course there are some opinions you just gotta hold on to, like for instance that the Earth is a globe. But that’s why I joined a Flat Earth group on Facebook – partially I thought it would be sort of funny*, but partially I wanted to practice open-mindedness in the most extreme setting I could (with the lowest stakes. I didn’t join a white supremacist group).
Instead of practicing open-mindedness (I tried, but holy shit these guys are… ill-educated), joining the group allowed me to better understand WHY you should keep an open mind. I’ve found in my practice and study of Buddhism that seeing people be wrong better allows me to understand what is right, and the Flat Earth group is no different.
What you see in the Flat Earth group is a whole bunch of people fully and righteously convinced of their correctness. Like, they don’t even have a doubt, and they scoff often at us “globeheads” or “globbers” (I can’t tell if they’re spelling globers wrong or if they want to say globbers). They look at the world with their own eyes and don’t see a curvature of the Earth and so therefore there is no curvature of the Earth.
We’re all like that. We all look at the world from our own perspective and we interpret that perspective and we decide that is the truth. We don’t take into account that our perspective is limited (with the naked eye you can see so little of the enormous Earth that the curvature will never be apparent), and we don’t take into account that our senses are not always accurate, and we definitely don’t take into account that observable phenomena don’t always present their true meaning or causation.
So I look at the Flat Earthers as extreme cartoon versions of us all, deeply convinced of our own rightness because of our limited understanding of the world around us, unaware of that limited understanding. And, like the Flat Earthers, we tend to be hostile to perspectives that are not immediately apparent to us (these guys have a really hard time taking ANY science seriously. Many of them DON’T BELIEVE IN GRAVITY).
The first step is to stop being hostile to other perspectives. That can be hard, especially when those perspectives challenge some long-held beliefs, ones that are core to your identity (Buddhism also recommends getting rid of that identity, so that should make it easier!). It doesn’t mean you have to erase what you know, but looking at any situation from a new perspective will only be helpful; as I said above, listening to people be wrong in meditation class – and trying to fully understand their reasoning – has really allowed me to better grok what’s true and useful.
I mean it when I say it’s hard. I just wrote a reply to a comment from my very smart and plugged in friend Aabria that I took like 12 hours to consider and I think I STILL could have been more open to some of her arguments. It’s a long road and you take small steps on it, but the key is knowing you’re on the road.
The Dalai Lama once said that if science proved reincarnation wasn’t true he would stop believing in it. I think that’s like THE right attitude. You don’t have to abandon your beliefs, but you also shouldn’t grasp them so hard that you ignore all evidence that contradicts them.
Being wrong isn’t a weakness, but being aggressively wrong IS. Being wrong is just a step in being smarter, in being more educated. Being wrong and holding your ground is delusion and gets you nowhere. Don’t be a Flat Earther in your daily life.
Of course, I may always be wrong.
* It has ended up being super depressing.