BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2017 (edited 2018)
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The human ability to share intelligence catapults our species into a different realm of existence. Knowledge accumulates from generation to generation. However, the concepts are muddied with bias, amazingly resistant to change.
The self is a complicated subject. We are encouraged to discover the self. In noble vagueness, this makes sense but in practicality simple definitions of self flounder, grasping to identify the dynamic being behind our action, we either become stumped or deceived. Instead of dwelling on the wonder of complexity, in awe for what we cannot know, we settle for simple labels; I’m honest; I’m smart; I’m a victim; I’m a drug abuser.
We need conceptual labels to function and share knowledge in a world of language. But with utility, we lose the gifts of complexity. Simpleness has a significant cost, weakening experience, and intruding on openness. Our dependence on prefixed labels diminishes flexibility to receive the novel.
We shouldn’t abandon examinations into self just because we can't achieve a neat understanding. Knowing underlying motivations, histories along with current patterns of thought and action is enlightening (and helpful). Knowledge of self is the building blocks of identity. The loss is incurred when self-knowledge gives way to rigid labels, demanding confirmations rather than continued open investigations. These mindsets create self-confirming biases.
Self-confirming biases, once set, reject opposing information, contorting experience to fit our preconceived notions. These firm beliefs of self twist interactions and limit growth. In order to gain from self-knowledge, we must include an asterisk with all discovered definitions of self, footnoting the limitations of words, and leaving room for a more complex unexplainable whole.
Deborah Luepnitz, in her wonderful book Schopenhauer's Porcupines, writes, “The point is not to go nameless, to refuse the question “Who am I?”, but to keep the conversation about identity going," (p. 184). Our enlightened discoveries of self are not definitive, all-encompassing explanations; but simply another clue to the great mystery of life.
We are wise when we accept limits to our understanding. Respecting the inadequacies of concepts (labels), opens our mind to continued gathering of knowledge that is less biased by faulty and rigid beliefs. This open mindset prepares for not only a greater understanding of self, but also, for a greater understanding of others. We can curb the divisive biases that create unpassable barriers and destroy the necessary conversations that can heal, instead of the narrow mindedness that currently prevails and continues to deepen the wounds with hate and suspicion.