“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Don't believe everything you think!"

One of my students, Jayson, in responding to a reading I had the class do, came up with this great statement... 
Don't believe everything you think!
It is such a great caution about living an unexamined life.  There are many things that we think and do that we really don't understand.  We have ideas about people or things that somehow are just a part of who we are and when we are in situations that call us to pull out that information, we do so without a lot of thought.  When we are challenged to consider our ideas, it can be painful because we find out how wrong or uninformed our ideas may be.

As an undergrad at Wheaton College, I was a TA in a class called Christ and Culture.  The major focus of the class for incoming freshmen was to challenge everything they believed about their Christian faith.  They often misunderstood thinking we were actually challenging their faith.  There was a lot of crying and questions like, "Why are you doing this?"  But the point was to make their faith THEIR faith.  They had been told things by their parents or others in their lives, but they hadn't investigated them for themselves.  "Why do you believe what you do?"  "Because my mom told me." May be a true response, but isn't necessarily a good response, particularly when you are confronted by the challenges of the world.  If you have come to an understanding of something because you have thought it through, that is much different from simply, lazily relying on something someone told you even if it was your mother.

I remember I once had a job at an industrial laundry in Atlantic City, NJ.  My boss was a great guy who was a Jehovah's Witness.  He challenged me as a young man on many positions of the Christian faith that differed from the Jehovah Witness faith.  "Why do you believe in the trinity?" he would ask.  "Why do you say Jesus is God?" both postions that he as a JW would not support.  I quickly realized that I had not done the required work to understand why I believed those things, and when challenged to find them in the Bible, as a young man, I couldn't do it.  I was simply relying on what I had been told.  Since then, I can easily support those positions from scripture, but it was my JW friend who challenged me to support my beliefs even though he didn't agree with them.

Social constructions of disability are the same kinds of ideas that people have that they have really not examined.  So, of course everybody with a disability thinks thus and so.  Of course they are all unhappy with their lives and so on and so on.  As a mentor professor once said to me about a conference speaker he had heard, "Unencumbered by knowledge, he speaks with great authority!"  That is the unexamined world of ideas that we carry around with us.

Now no one would (or should) come up to me and ask about economics.  However, I carry ideas about economics around in my head that I have heard or read somewhere that come out of my mouth every so often.  I can tell you that they are unexamined ideas.  They are largely unexamined because I have never taken the time (nor do I want to take the time) to understand more about economics.  I try real hard not to infuse my ideas about economics into conversations I am in if only because I would do little more than make myself look stupid if I were to offer my perspective.  However, in the world of disability, because it intersects with the life of so many different people in so many different ways, knowledge doesn't always accompany ideas.  I see it in "Christian" responses to people with disabilities, I see it in justifications for abortion or euthanasia, I see it in people projecting their ideas of what it would be like to have an impairment on others, I see it in the development of laws, I even see it in the definition some hold of what disability is.

So my caution is Jayson's caution..."Don't believe everything you think!"


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