These days, I feel like I am listening to a broken stereo. COVID-19. Polarization. Injustice. It’s like we’re in a time lapse; we can’t escape our reality.
I’m not here to say that a global pandemic, the radical dichotomy in our nation or racial inequality can be fixed overnight. No, in fact, it’s quite the contrary––we need to put in some work. We need to address the fact that many of our beliefs are set in stone and impregnable from criticism, and that is problematic.
We need to free our minds.
What does it mean to have a mind that is free? J. Krishnamurti, one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, focused extensively on this concept, and the title of his book, “Freedom from the Known,” begins to answer that question. A free mind can detach itself from what it believes to know; it can learn and grow. A free mind entails having a consciousness that listens, thinks and (most primarily) does not distort.
But there is a problem here––distortion is prominent in our lives. We distort the information that we acquire to coincide with our beliefs; we distort our thoughts to reassure ourselves; we are constantly distorting reality. Whether we realize it or not, this perversion results from a deliberate effort––an effort to achieve something and an effort that is almost always directed at corroborating our “side.”
So how can we look at the world without imposing our own will? Krishnamurti believed that one has to be free from the positive and the negative, the true meaning of meditation. In an interview, he provided an example, which may seem radical to many of us: to claim that life has meaning or that it does not is a form of distortion. Our minds have to occupy a sort of neutral, quasi-Switzerland ground, for leaning one way can prevent us from gaining perspective.
Regarding our tendency to judge the so-called other side, we must also realize that “the analyzer is no different than the analyzed,” as Krishnamurti claimed. In other words, the next time we judge another, we should reflect upon ourselves first. It comes down to recognizing a basic fact of life––we, as humans, are biologically alike. We share many of the same faults, and acknowledging our own ignorance is the first step to gaining clarity. There is always much to learn and numerous reasons to listen.
Listening (as I have learned in Mr. Cupp’s Ethics class) is something that we tend to avoid because listening requires thinking, and thinking involves examining pre-established notions, something that we tend to avoid at all costs. Thinking, ergo, requires some work.
But I think it’s simply a matter of reallocating our efforts––the energy we expend trying to affirm our beliefs should rather be spent listening patiently. For example, when my dad and I were debating the quality of country music, I was so occupied with defending country singers like George Strait and John Hiatt that I didn’t even listen to my dad’s valid (and agreeable point)—there is country music of which the lyrics exclusively consist of ‘ma truck, beer and girl.’
Seeking new knowledge is, in fact, rewarding. As John Stuart Mill said, “If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth.” Speaking with others whose views are congruent with our own is like watching the same movie over and over again. Yes, it’s comforting, but we get nothing out of if. And knowledge is entirely separate from opinion. A knowledgeable individual is well-rounded; they know of both sides. Opinion is arbitrary. As Mill argues in chapter two of “On Liberty,” we could have entirely different opinions if we were born in a different city, country, family, etc.
Krishnamurti beautifully stated, “We hope to capture something that is not the product of thought.” In other words, to attain real knowledge is to gather something that is not simply a product of ruminating on the little that we already know.