I, being myself, said something a little silly today. My roommate’s girlfriend asked for some clarification about something I had said, saying that my statement was one that was prone to a common misconception. I retorted that I did not have misconceptions. I was being sarcastic, hyperbolic, and perhaps a little snide, but later, I was thinking about a challenge posed to me in the form of an (ironically enough, misconceived) obvious example of a misconception; I had noticed that my roommate’s food contained shrimp. I stared at the shrimp for a second before I said aloud “Oh, that’s a shrimp.” My roommate responded with “I thought you didn’t have misconceptions.”
Here’s the thing, that wasn’t a misconception. I hadn’t actually conceived of the shrimp as something other than a shrimp. My questioning was part of the process of my perception of the crustacean. To say “oh, that’s a shrimp” is not to exhibit a prior misconception of the thing that turned out to be a shrimp. It’s an exhibition of the result of understanding and correctly processing the sensory data that led me to conclude that the item I was staring at was a shrimp. I had perceived that the thing I was staring at was a shrimp. I had no prior conception that shrimps were things other than what they are, and I hadn’t formed misconceptions about what the thing on the plate was. I simply hadn’t given any thought to the sensory data that allowed me to identify that the thing which I later determined to be a shrimp even existed. This led me to think on things other than shrimp.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our perceptions of people who hold differing Opinions. I capitalize Opinions to emphasize that I’m writing here about things that shape the way we live our lives: our religions, our politics, and our ethnic backgrounds (among other things that I’ve surely forgotten to list). I strive to treat other people in the best way possible. I don’t mean that I always ascribe the best of intentions to their actions, but I do mean that I try not to assume that I know why people act in certain ways.
The tribalism that we so often see on Twitter, in politics, and scattered throughout our various forms of media exhibits itself in our everyday lives, at least it does in mine. I see people voicing uninformed or misinformed opinions about others whilst simultaneously casting those people as the “bad guys” who have the worst intentions. It seemed to me that those people had misconceived the intentions of others, but now I’m no so sure that’s it.
So what’s my point? Why did I start off talking about shrimp and end on a ramble about the biases that people hold? I’m not sure, but I think I may have noticed something today about the way that we perceive others. I’m not sure that many of the so-called misconceptions that we hold are those at all. I think that we often view others as maliciously holding on to misconceptions of those who they view as the other, while in reality, they haven’t properly conceived of the other person in the first place.
It seems that when people see others of opposing political affiliation, they tend to discount the worth of the words that person could share. They ascribe the worst intentions, and then they use the preconceived notions that fit the political label to describe the rest of the person. Before today, I would have said that the person judging the other had severe misconceptions, but I now think that the problem is one even more fundamental. Instead of dealing with misconceptions of shrimp, we can’t even see the shrimp for what it is. My roommate should have told me that I may not have had misconceptions, but I obviously have a problem with misperceptions. I think that our problem is that we have conceptions of labels, we perceive a person as falling under a label, and then fail to try to conceive of the ideas that the person himself holds.
So, yeah. That’s what I thought about tonight.
“You know,” he said, as he sat in the old wooden rocker, watching the fire. “People talk about the perseverance of the Saints as if it’s a good thing. I’m not so sure it is.” The old man stared at the flames as they danced around the logs. “I mean, sure. ‘Once saved always saved,’ and all that jazz, but wouldn’t it be better if we could lose our salvation?”
“How are we even certain of our salvation in the first place, Jim? We’re told that good fruit comes from good trees, but then at other times we’re told that all the trees are rotten, and only one thing can rid the rot. Where’s that magical tipping point?” Jim didn’t answer.
“‘Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart,’ Jim! That’s what they used to say. They also told me that I couldn’t do anything. ‘Not by works, old boy.’ ‘God is love, son;’ that’s why He burns the rotten trees that couldn’t grow anew. I mean, you can’t allow the infection to fester. What about when God plants the trees, Jim? What then? What if the infection is sown by the Doctor? The Doctor sure doesn’t like to see His patients suffer. That much is clear. What Doctor would? At what point do the sick become the condemned, though? I just don’t know, Jim.” Jim just sat there.
A fiery avalanche in miniature tumbled into the ashes. Sparks cartwheeled and floated, seemingly of their own volition. The air expanded and exploded, and Jim just sat there.
“I really want to believe in a loving God, you know? I can’t believe that there is no God. Sure, perhaps our idea of God is wrong. I could be a deist, but then there’s all those stories. God is love. Jesus loves the little children. He healed that woman who bled; He deigned to touch the lepers. Love your enemies and, bless those who curse you. The peace that would result from such an attitude, Jim! But I suppose that forgiveness requires wrongs, and wrongs require a Right. Malice needs an object, Jim. How do we get around that?” Jim looked over for a minute, but he didn’t say.
“An all-powerful God is a terrible idea, Jim. A loving, all-powerful God is a thing of beauty. A just, loving, all-powerful God is what they posit, Jim. The justice supersedes our idea of love! God’s justice requires Him to destroy evil, and we are evil! I didn’t want to be evil, though, Jim. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I want to be saved; who doesn’t? I want to do good; only the truly sick don’t want that. Only those in need of a Doctor, Jim, not a Binary Judge. Why would the Doctor-Judge make His patients his defendants, and then try them before treating them? Jim, I don’t mean to be blasphemous, but the idea of a loving Father does not mesh with the idea of a fickle King who casts his subjects into a fire. The judgement is always the same. ‘You are sick. You shall die.’ How do we know when we’ve won the cosmic lottery, Jim? Do we want to?” Jim stood up and began to pace.
“Come on Jim. Let’s go for a walk.”
Jim wagged his tail.
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What do I like? I don’t know, honestly. I know what I dislike. Those feelings are strongly defined in my mind. I know I dislike crowds of people. I hold no affinity towards hypocrites and those who are cruel. I think my dislike of crowds comes from my distaste for consumerism and hivemind. I like things arbitrarily. I sometimes choose a thing to like based on its lack of popularity. Is it a hipsteresque tendency? Or do I just fancy some things for their exclusivity, their difference from the norm?
Cool temperatures, and trees; I don’t know what I would do without those. I like mountains. The distance from society and the peacefulness of the forest, I can live with that. Of course, to say such a thing is an implication of a more insidious reversal of states. Can I not live with the other? With the norm? Who knows?
I like reading, and I enjoy some books. Others are chores: useful, but tedious. I enjoy a good story. I adore a good story. Some would say that a good story is essential. I think I agree. Stories define our characters and shape our world. Stories teach who we could be and what we should or shouldn’t do. Stories are the means by which we adventure into uncharted territory. We send our heroes into the fray and observe the result, uninjured in our safe, real life.
I like some people. I don’t like them all. To like all people requires a like for oneself.
I respect all people. That’s a different story.
I like blue skies, but I also like the rain. I especially like the clouds in a storm. I like the pummeling of the earth as a particularly severe storm thrashes in rage. I like animals, for the most part. Some I like less well than others.
So yeah, I like some things, but I’m not sure why. Maybe I’ll figure it out sometime. Maybe I’ll like what I find.