PARADOX AND THINKING WITH INTEGRITY

Along with the belief, most people have that they naturally know how to think is an underlying, correlating assumption that thinking does not require must effort or time. Confronted with real-life problems, we imagine we can deal with them as quickly and easily as a thirty-minute “telenovela” would portray them to be.

As a result, Dr. Scott Peck observes, many people show little interest in contemplation. The effort involved in truly thinking often takes a backseat, and they end up going in circles rather than dealing with life’s various dilemmas efficiently. “In their psychosocial-spiritual journey through life, they rarely stop to think about why they are going where they are going, where they really want to go, or how best to plot out and facilitate the journey.”

In this simplistic approach, we often overlook various aspects of our lives that are desperate for attention until they become full-blown crises. Alternatively, we dismiss new ideas that could further our growth simply because they do not fit within the general framework of our preconceived notions and self-concepts.We spend an enormous amount of time simply reacting. “It is as if we are robots programmed to respond on cue to whatever demands the least time and attention, and disregard anything that require putting in extra time and energy to think. We skim over the surface thoughtlessly.”Yet still, we must acknowledge that thinking well is a time-consuming process. We cannot expect instant results. We have to slow down a bit and take the time to contemplate, meditate, even pray. “It is the only route to a more meaningful and efficient existence.”

Without going into the mindsets that describe the words “radical” and “fundamental.” Dr. Scott Peck believes that anyone who thinks DEEPLY about fundamentals will, by definition, be a radical; and actions that stem from that kind of thinking will also be radical in the sense that they will address and seek to solve life’s most important problems. The same holdstrue for prayer. “Prayer is useless unless it is translated into meaningful action.”

Radical thinkers are also independent thinkers. But they know that they cannot simply rely on themselves. To think independently does not mean going to an extreme that would exclude information and learning from others. Therefore, while it is proper that we think for ourselves, that does not imply that we act like “rebellious children,” rejecting all conventional wisdom and dismissing all societal norms. That, according to Dr. Peck, would be an unnecessary expenditure of energy and an inefficient waste of time. “Rather, we can learn much from good leaders and teachers – formally and informally. It is through those who think well that we can find good examples of what it means to be efficient and live life fully.”

Furthermore, Dr. Peck believes that those who subscribe to the notion that there are easy answers – a simple reason for everything – actually promote “simplism” and intellectual bigotry. He has found in many of his wide travels that wherever he went such bigotry is the norm rather than the exception.

He expatiates that if we assume that there is a reason for everything, we naturally go looking for it – and dismiss all other possibilities that potentially conflict with it – when we should be looking for them. He is equally astonished by the number of well-educated people who offer or seek simple-minded explanation for complicated phenomena ranging from riots, homosexuality, and abortion to poverty, illness, evil, and war. He believes it would often be considerably healthier for us to dare to live without reason for many things than live with reasons that are simplistic.

“Over-determination,” according to psychiatrists, is the concept that everything important has multiple causes. Far from being simplistic, over-determination demands the integration of multiple dimensions in order to see the whole picture. It is necessary for the understanding of many issues. To think well means to perceive in multidimensional ways. It is the essence of thinking with integrity. Integrity signifies wholeness, entirety, completion. To think and ultimately act with integrity, we have to integrate the multiple reasons and dimensions of our incredibly complex world.

Again, psychiatrists have a verb for the opposite of “integrate”: “compartmentalize.” To compartmentalize is to take things that are properly related and stick them in separate, airtight compartments in our minds where they do not have to rub up against each other and cause us any stress or pain, friction or tension. An example would be a man who goes to church on Sunday morning, devoutly believing that he loves God and God’s creation, and then on Monday has no trouble with his company’s policy of dumping toxic wastes in the local stream. This is because he has put his religion in one compartment and his business in another. He is what we have come to call a “Sunday morning Christian.” It is a very comfortable way to operate, but integrity it is not.

“To think and act with integrity requires that we fully experience the tension of competing thoughts and demands. It requires that we ask the crucial question: Has anything been left out? It requires us to look beyond our usually simplistic illusions and assumptions to try to discover what is missing.”

If you want to think with integrity, and willing to bear the pain involved, you will inevitably encounter paradox. The Greek word PARA means “by the side of, beside, alongside, past, beyond.” DOXA means opinion. Thus, a paradox is “a statement contrary to common belief or one that seems contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd but may actually be true in fact.” If a concept is paradoxical, that in itself should suggest that it smacks of integrity and has the ring of truth. Conversely, if a concept is not in the least paradoxical, you may suspect that it has failed to integrate some aspect of the whole.

If no pieces of reality are missing from the picture, if all the dimensions are integrated, you will probably be confronted by a paradox. “When you get to the root of things, virtually all truth is paradoxical.” The truth is for example, that I am and I am not an individual – I do not exist either by or for myself. Thus, to seek the truth involves an integration of things that seem to be separate and look like opposites when in reality, they are intertwined and related in some ways. Reality itself is paradoxical, in that while many things in and about life seem simple on the surface, they are often complex – although not always complicated.

To understand paradox ultimately means being able to grasp two contradictory concepts in one’s mind without going “crazy.” It is certainly a skill of mental acrobatics to be able to juggle opposing ideas in one’s mind without automatically negating or rejecting the reality of either idea. But even when the strongest impulse is to want to deny something that one finds hard to digest – such as the fact that evil coexists with good in our world – the ability to understand paradox is necessary in the process of sorting through illusions, half-truths, and outright lies. President Obama puts this aptly: “I still find it possible to understand their motives, and to recognize in them values I share.”

It is unquestionable that certain changes are needed in society to encourage better thinking. However, at the same time, individuals are responsible for their own thinking and how to meet this challenge. Ultimately, if we can teach people to think well, we could heal most of the ills of individuals and most ills of society. In the end, however, the benefits of thinking well is worth the effort – and far better than the alternative. “Once a mind is truly stretched, it never returns to its former dimensions.”

BY CAPTAIN SAM ADDAIH

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