I grew up being right. How did I know I was right? Because I “knew” that I was right. How did I know that? Because I was taught what right was, and how to merit that label, and therefore it was simple to just adhere to the definition and make sure your thinking and behavior complied to its premises. “Right” is always something external to the subjective experience of a young child and gaining the delight of knowing that he/she is right requires dutifully imbibing the definition of right that is proffered. I used the term “imbibing” because it is more than a mere cognitive matter; it is a matter of “soaking up” the nuances of the culture to acquire a subjective “experience” of being right, meaning it is not likely to be questioned.
I have questioned this “rightness” of mine my whole life. Oh, somewhat less in my youth as just did not have the self-confidence, the courage to stand on my own two feet and think for myself. “Thinking for oneself” in a collective mindset that discourages it will leave one with a sense of alienation and I got a double dose of that malady. The experience of alienation was so intense that I desperately tried to comply, to believe the right things, to do the right things so that I would have the comfort of belonging. But if you must “try” to belong, you are in deep shit as far as having the comfort that belonging offers.
This “splinter in the brain,” as Emily Dickinson called it, has tormented and blessed me, the whole of my life. Even today, as I am standing on my own two feet, there is the deep-seated nagging realization that I am now defying nearly all of the offerings of the tribe I was born into that would offer one the “delight” of being right. I now see that the desperate desire to be right of my early youth was merely the result of the implicit assumptions I had gained from my tribe that I was intrinsically wrong, leaving me with a deep-seated experience that my simple “being” in the world was wrong. I now seek “The Joy of Being” wrong, which is the title of a very important book in my life by James Alison, the complete title being, “The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes.” I personally believe this joy is what the teachings of Jesus was about, that he assured us that we could have this joy if we found the courage to relinquish all the pressures to fit in and just “be” present in the world. This, in my estimation, is “salvation” which in the words of T.S. Eliot is, “a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.”
A very important caveat is warranted. This freedom to “be,” to live free of the bondage to social norms, does not allow one to live in disregard for the conventions of one’s tribe. Many of these conventions might not apply to me but that does not give me the freedom to go on the war path against them. In that case I would be guilty of the very same obnoxious contempt that a tribe utilizes to stamp out the individuality of a soul. But it does give me the freedom to speak out about perceived injustice and evil as long as I don’t get so arrogant with self-righteousness that I encourage violence, overt or subtle.
The inspiration for this discourse stems from an article I read this morning in the New York Times about an Indian woman, Gauri Lankesh, who had this courage to be herself and speak out about the injustice of her country. She was a journalist who was murdered in 2017 because of her bold, and at times brazen willingness to “speak truth to power”. Extremism always springs from knowing you are “right” and the arrogance that gives one this assurance arises from deep-seated darkness that permits violence. This darkness arises from primitive fears and anxieties so intense that the light of conscious awareness is disallowed, a light that would permit respect of difference.