“That Doesn’t Make Any Sense!” This was dad’s go-to statement whenever he saw something on teevee or in the newspaper that he either did not understand or did not like. I often heard dad exclaim it when my brother and I watched old black and white “sci-fi” movies like “Godzilla” or when the family watched silly sitcoms like “Green Acres”.
I once retorted that these shows were made for entertainment and not as carefully researched material meant to educate the public. Dad did not appreciate my observation, but at least he didn’t use the “Doesn’t Make Sense” statement for the remainder of that evening.
Some of the “take-away” I gathered from dad’s use of “That doesn’t make any sense” included his habit of questioning the norm except certain “forbidden topics”. Ironically, dad’s adamant use of the statement increased my level of curiosity and the urge to question everything. I just had to be careful about what I mentioned to particular people, like dad. In hindsight, this attitude was probably just part of my teenage phase of questioning authority.
The habit of questioning authority has remained with me ever since. During one particular coffee break, my former supervisor at Hewlett Packard praised this tendency as a virtue, he then challenged me to question my ultimate authority–myself. We had been engaged in a friendly discussion about political beliefs. My boss generally agreed with my political slant but wondered how I had personally come to believe it.
I answered that I honestly didn’t know. It just seemed like I had always believed the stuff I believed. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, because it happened decades ago. However, I do remember my old boss’s facial expression. He looked into my eyes and smiled like the “Cheshire Cat”.
The discussion with my old supervisor about beliefs validated the seemingly innate “virtue” of being skeptical. Paired with memories of dad’s pet phrase, my curiosity bloomed. This tendency caused me to ponder many things. It rekindled my adolescent rebelliousness that had faded away. I began questioning myself and my motives. I began to reconsider many things and people with whom I had lost touch. It was a time of wanting to start over with a clean slate.
Mixed metaphors aside, it was time to hit the public library and also engage in some serious introspection. Sometimes I’d hit upon a mystery or a concept or a tradition that didn’t make logical sense. The puzzles begged to be solved.
The thing to do was to set aside my prejudiced beliefs as best as possible. After all, how was I supposed to learn the truth if my beliefs got in the way? This method was imperfect because of my inexperience at skepticism. I had to borrow from my journalism education. That is, investigate while never forgetting that my personal prejudices will probably affect the quality of my findings.
An important thing to remember is that it’s easy to get trapped in a subjective, limited point of view. This is why it is essential to have discussions with other people–especially those who have various opinions about the topic one is investigating. Exchanging opinions and ideas with other people who explore and question life from different viewpoints can help free the mind of prejudices. I remember my former boss did this regularly.
I try to be humble yet inquisitive because humility tempered by open-mindedness has been practical and helpful in my day to day life. Smarter people than me have said that we see the world not as it is, but as we see it. That is we filter things and events through our assumptions, beliefs, and fears. Does that make any sense?
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes science communicator, Kyle Hill. “We tend to accept information that confirms our prior beliefs and ignore or discredit information that does not. This confirmation bias settles over our eyes like distorting spectacles for everything we look at.”