Convenient fictions

I’ve come to believe that all of us are often wrong about why we believe what we believe. We rarely go through any sort of analysis of how we came to our conclusions.

For the most part, we bring our history to an experience, slap a convenient pattern on it that pretends to be an explanation, and leave it at that.

This is certainly true of writing. But in writing, at least the kind I do, I get to admit that I am creating fiction. My point is that we all do this all the time. We create fictions of what is happening almost as soon as it happens. Then this fiction is regarded as a fact that influences future impressions.

Which build and influence future impressions that build and influence future … yadda yadda.

Rather than thinking about it, the “truth” (if such a thing exists out of context) emerges over time as our impressions sift themselves, the more valuable (but no more “correct) rising to the top. These impressions tend to reenforce themselves.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s a necessary part of surviving in this world, this wondrous ability to create and believe in patterns we create to explain; cause and effect, if you will.

Man used fire long before he understood how oxygen and carbon release heat when combined. Eons ago, his explanation worked well enough that he had fire when he needed it. The fact that he was entirely wrong about the causes of combustion didn’t matter.

That ability to create patterns to guide our behavior extends not just to fire. It helps us survive social situations as well. We avoid angry drunks spilling out of the bar when we don’t want to fight, and duck the lady at church who wants to talk about her grandkids for an hour when we have a pie burning in the oven at home.

But occasionally our patterns hinder us. If we were badly victimized, we will tend to  perceive victimhood; angry people find things to be angry about, fixers find things to fix, preeners are disappointed when adulation isn’t forthcoming, etc.

I’ve found this especially true the more attached we are to issues of relationship, politics, values. I’m not talking about Ford versus Chevy.

It’s how our brains are wired. I won’t go into the science. It doesn’t matter in this discussion. What’s important is to acknowledge that it happens, that we are often more “right” the longer we take to form an opinion or take action, that we are on safest ground when generous toward those with whom we disagree, and leave our minds open.

It’s hard work. But so are a lot things.

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About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

2 Responses to Convenient fictions

  1. Gary Eddings says:

    Relevant to Charlie Hebdo/Paris violence; those loops of alledged reasoning reinforced by hate, estrangement, and severe longing for group identity seem doomed to destroy.

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