Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Want It All

A child may fixate on a hammer as the solution to all life's problems, but the adult craftsman knows it's best to use the right tool for the job.

Most craftsmen become collectors of tools to ensure they always have whichever tool that is the best fit for the problem at hand. Building up a toolbox is part of becoming a craftsman. The best craftsmen also become connoisseurs of tools to ensure that of the available choices for each problem they choose the highest-quality version. But even the best craftsmen learn how to use the lower-quality tools, in case they find themselves in situations where that's all they have access to. They become jacks of all trades, proficient with everything they can in their chosen fields of work.

These practices of great craftsmen are fairly widely recognized around the world, yet when it comes to religions, worldviews, and other forms of culture we reflexively revert to the golden hammer. As Abraham Maslow described the situation in The Psychology of Science: A Renaissance, (1966):

"I remember seeing an elaborate and complicated automatic washing machine for automobiles that did a beautiful job of washing them. But it could do only that, and everything else that got into its clutches was treated as if it were an automobile to be washed. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

Not everything needs to be pounded, but this is what we're doing when we monomaniacally adhere to a single perspective on the world, even though we ought to know better.

So let's grow up. Instead of mental toddlers, let's become great craftsmen of thought.

Instead of pounding away at the world with just one perspective, let's collect viewpoints - all of them. Instead of putting ourselves inside the soap bubble of any one worldview, let's put all those worldviews inside ourselves.

We must become craftsmen of thought.

The mind of a craftsman of thought is a toolbox of ideas, viewpoints, cultures, and religions. Instead of one opinion, a craftsman of thought collects them all, learns to use them all, and learns to let each new problem shape its own solution. Judgments about "which one is true" are irrelevant to the initial problem of collecting them all and figuring out how they can help.

To rule your own mind, you must not let it become subject to any one perspective. This is the paradox of reserving judgment: that instead of holding one opinion we simultaneously hold all of them and none of them, because we collect them all but commit ourselves to none of them.

What I've described here is necessary but not sufficient. A long journey toward wisdom remains beyond this stage of growing up. This though is the pivotal revelation for this rite of passage. To pass through the culture crisis from mental childhood into the beginnings of true adulthood, you need to give up monomania and learn to put opinions in their proper subordinate role as your mind's servants rather than its masters.

After you free your mind, the rest can follow.

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