Where do our thoughts come from—particularly the ones that poison our minds and can sometimes cause us so much trouble?
First and foremost, we make them. It seems that we are born without any preconceived idea in mind. We are supplied with five physical senses with which we perceive the outside world and, possibly, ourselves included in this world. We are also equipped with a brain with which we make interpretations about what we perceive.
We only have to observe a young child to see how his/her interpretations are often wrong. For example, children do not feel the fear of real dangers—crossing the street without looking—and yet they show signs of fear in front of harmless objects or persons—a visitor with a gruff voice. Children are pleased beyond measure for trinkets, but they can also cry their heart out about trifles.
We definitely learn very gradually to understand the world around us, to make enlightened judgments about reality, to better discern the real dangers from imaginary ones, and to better evaluate the relative importance of things. Childhood is the age of absolute needs, inconsolable sorrows, uncontrollable fears… to sum it all up: the age of innocence and naivete.
And this is not all. This naive child that we were—whose critical thinking was almost absent—has been, from birth, in contact with adults who were not all necessarily champions of realism. Therefore, from early on, we have seen and heard these adults being angry about anything, uttering unqualified judgments, proclaiming absolutes… in fact, messing around long and often, but not necessarily on purpose. And, most often than not, the prestige that these adults had in our child’s eyes led us to accept without questioning the aberrations expressed or experienced by those around us. For example:
- “My father is the strongest…”
- “My mother is the prettiest…”
Unfortunately, there is often not too much we can do about the environment in which we have lived as a child, the people and the things that surrounded us. On the other hand—and that is great news!—nothing says it is inevitable for us to continue thinking as we have learned from our immediate environment in the early years of our lives.
And then—at least, for most of us—we started out school around the age of five. And if school often teaches children knowledge that is useful, it often conveys unhealthy prejudices as well—alas, it does! After all, teachers are also human beings reared in the same way as their students.
On top of that, the very structures of school (rankings without originality, first place, last place, rewards, punishments, “good students” and “bad students”) offered us—little children whose critical thinking was almost absent due to the naivete and innocence of our young age—with countless opportunities to create unhealthy thoughts and ideas. Alas, many of these unhealthy thoughts and ideas simply added themselves to those we had already made ourselves and learned through the contact of our parents and/or immediate environment. Even today, it seems that most of our schools are not structured in a way to support the development of critical thinking of our children.
Finally, the various communication agents of our culture—newspapers, radio, television, publicity of all kinds—also carry along a huge mass of nonsense. Not only these aberrations are repeated endlessly, through the technical means that we have, often for years, but the little children that we were didn’t take long before learning to repeat them to themselves without even realizing it.
As we grew up, we gradually got rid of a certain number of myths and nonsense—Santa Claus, for example—but we also continued to hold unhealthy thoughts and ideas. And even if we hold them unconsciously, these unhealthy thoughts and ideas cause us a flow of unhealthy emotions and lead us to act against our own interest.
Here is the situation of most human beings on this planet. It is most probably your situation as well. However, even if I may sound like a broken record, I sincerely think it is worth repeating that we are in no way condemned to continue thinking as we have learned so in the early years of our lives.
© Chantal Beaupre 2010