Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Lies Society Told Me

     When I was in kindergarten, my teacher pointed at a picture of grass and asked, "What color is this?"  I knew from earlier lessons that I needed to say, "green" if I wanted to get a gold star for the day.  And I really wanted a gold star because the kids with five gold stars at the end of the week would get to go to an ice cream party.  So I said, "green" like a good little boy, and I've stuck with that answer ever sense.  But closer inspection reveals that there is a quandary here.  If I had to guess, I'd say that my kindergarten teacher only told me that the color of grass is green because that's what her kindergarten teacher told her.  Furthermore, I would guess that if we continued back through time in the style of Dr. Who, then we'd find an endless stream of kindergarten teachers all saying, "Grass is green," because that's what their kindergarten teachers told them until finally we arrived at some undisclosed point in history when one man or woman looked at grass, called it green, and everyone else agreed to stick with that answer.  In other words, the color of grass is green for no other reason than that is what society has decided to call it.

     Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  We need a baseline of beliefs like, "grass is green" in order for people to be able to communicate..  Seriously, can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if everyone called the color of grass something different?  But there is a danger here.  If we base our beliefs and thus our morality solely on the dictates of society, then it becomes very easy to go along with things that are harmful to ourselves and others.  With this in mind, I've decided to make a list of the top ten lies that society told me.  They are as follows:
  1. My value as a man is dependent on how much money is in my bank account
  2. The purpose of life is to accumulate money, power, and possessions
  3. I need to get married and have kids in order to be "complete"
  4. Life is a zero sum game, and someone else has to lose for me to win
  5. Men aren't supposed to have feelings
  6. Alcohol and violence are viable means for problem-solving
  7. Working to protect the environment is a waste of time
  8. Animals are less important than people
  9. The best way to change the system is from within
  10. I'm not good enough 
     Zen practice gave me a platform for investigating these beliefs.  It also gave me a moral framework which I could use to replace them with more life-affirming ideas.  Through meditation I realized that there was no good reason for most of these ideas beyond the social indoctrination that I'd been receiving since I was a child.  Once I realized this, I gained the space and intellectual freedom to choose to believe other things.  However, I also gained a very deep sense of responsibility and a need to constantly ask the question, "Does this idea help to end suffering for myself and others?"  By keeping this question in mind, I've landed on five points of reference since I've started this project which help me make better sense of the world.  They are as follows:
  1. The value of a human being is inherent and unchanging regardless of either financial or social status
  2. The purpose of life is to exist and work to save all sentient beings from suffering
  3. Being open about my feelings is both healthy and necessary for building relationships 
  4. Caring for the environment is no different than caring for my own body
  5. The best way to change an oppressive system is to step as far outside of it as I can without causing harm to myself or others
     As I continue to explore my new mode of living in the world as an organic farmer and a lifestyle activist, these five points of reference serve as guideposts whenever I'm unsure about a particular course of action.  This is important as I continue to examine old modes of thinking and work to rid myself of harmful beliefs like the ones I listed earlier in this post.  It's a work in progress, and it's hard to be patient with myself as I continue to unlearn the lies society told me.  But just like I know that "grass is green", I also know that my efforts will pay off in the end

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