Part 8 of “I can tell for myself” sequence. Previously: The eyes-open student: “I can see things my teacher can’t acknowledge”.
The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points.— Bertrand Russell
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the messes wouldn’t end if we could just somehow get everybody (within some context) to have grounded confidence in their sense of “I can tell for myself” even when others say something that seems to contradict it (or find enough people who already have it and herd them into the same room).
Instead we get new messes!
If I can tell for myself that “X”, and you can tell for yourself that “Y”, and it seems to us that it’s not possible for both X and Y to be true at the same time, then we’re going to be pretty stuck! The resulting communicational impasses can be pretty intense, depending on what’s at stake (and how emotionally resilient participants are, such that physical stakes feel more or less gripping). I described above how it tends to play out when there’s a major power imbalance on some relevant axis. What happens when there’s not?
When the conflict isn’t too central, what happens is: they have relationships that work out. This is pretty good! They have enough overlap in what they each want, and how they each already see the world, that they’re able to found a company together or get married and have kids, or co-run a community or some other kind of project, or just be lifelong friends. There may be other arenas where they don’t see eye-to-eye, and can’t figure out how to bridge, but those arenas are sufficiently inconsequential to the relationship that they can be ignored (or periodically explored in a low-stakes way, as friends sometimes do with philosophical questions).
But when the conflict is at the core of their identity and/or purpose and/or worldview (which is broadly the case when we’re talking about spiritual teachers and/or those who are aiming to discover and embody pragmatically & philosophically workable answers to life’s big questions (I count myself as one of these))… well, I may be missing something, but as far as I can tell what usually happens is, oddly: “nothing”. The really high-self-trust people just don’t interact that much. They keep to their own contexts where nobody is self-trustfully challenging their worldviews that are based on generalizations of their direct-knowings. They run their training center, or monastery, or company, or online community, or whatever, where their wisdom can flow and so can others’… to the extent it doesn’t contradict theirs. These contradictions may not even be on the level of “what’s so”; they can even just be “what’s relevant”.
When high-self-trust people do interact with other high-self-trust people, I’ve seen that mostly look like either what I’d call “polite diplomatic interaction” or something more like temporary high-intensity flow, where in either case they may get excited about potential synergies between their works, then mysteriously fail to follow up on those. (Whether because it’d be too much work or because they don’t even know how to do it.)
And sometimes there’s some sort of direct conflict as well, that’s hard to step back from. Perhaps these two people have a shared interest in a given community, and so they feel disturbed by each others’ influence on the paradigm of that community (“you’re going around spreading confusions”) and/or some decisions that some group might make on whatever level. Ideally in such a situation it would be possible to openly negotiate about this and resolve the tensions, but often this is difficult so either there’s sort of an unacknowledged tug-of-war, or there’s open accusations between people or groups, of unethical behavior or whatever. It’s messy and generally sucks for all involved. People who appreciate both perspectives and aren’t loyal to either side find themselves pressured to simplify their own view—to take one side and thereby to lose touch with whatever sense of “I can tell for myself” they have that conflicts with the other leaders.
The point I want to make in this part of the sequence is that by default, having a lot of self-trust (/ “I can tell for myself” sense) doesn’t particularly make people any better at bridging to others’ perspectives. In fact, it can end up making people worse, because they can more easily get away with (even unintentionally!) overriding inconvenient aspects of others’ experience in the name of standing for the integrity of their own. Bridging between what I can tell for myself and what you can tell for yourself is an additional skill beyond each of us being in touch with our respective knowings in the first place.
….we have now built up to the final part of this series, which explores: can we do better? Can we do better than the dynamics described in this post and the previous ones? Can we have kids and teens and adults and sages who can smoothly synthesize what they can tell for themselves with what others tell them? Could cultures exist where people don’t need to ignore or leave unexpressed things that are obvious to them? Is there a viable pathway for moving towards such worlds, from where we find ourselves now, or will it always turn into guru dynamics when we try to teach it? (To each other, from one group to another, or within a person.) Can two (or more) people who are each thoroughly grounded in their own experience, but whose experiences are radically different and seemingly contradictory, learn to see a deeper reality together that integrates both of their direct-knowings?
In other words: can we can tell for ourself?
In a flagrant violation of Betteridge’s law of headlines, my answer will be yes.
Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.