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 Cross Examing our Beliefs and Memoires - from the New York Times

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Cross Examing our Beliefs and Memoires - from the New York Times   Sun May 19, 2013 7:36 pm

I am posting this column here because it has some good insights about the nature of our memories and getting beyond one-dimensional thinking. I have bolded some of the phrases and key points that struck me as relevant to our discussions here.

One of the aspects of any cultic organization - like Shasta - that demands total obedience and suspending all critical thinking, is that you end up with a one dimensional view of the guru, the practice, the past, the inside and the outside, good guys and bad guys. Everything becomes black and white and very simple and absolute - and anyone who doesn't take refuge in this mind-set is ejected, cast out, or mentally driven to submit. So this process robs devotees of the complex and rainbow quality of real life - suppress vision and you don't see - or you see so narrowly, you effectively blind yourself. That's part of the reason members of these kinds of organizations become so threatened when anyone dares talk about the shadows of their leader... one dimensional thinking does not have any room for shadows or doubt or the other dimensions. It doesn't compute. If they try to even allow the possibility that their glorious master has a shadow, the story falls apart. They live in the black and white, so if the shadows might be true, then it must all become black. But if you can live with complexity and contradictions and colors and shadows and allow them all to be seen, then the teacher or the practice can include the messy bits, the distortions, the contradictions, the humanness of it all. You don't have to pretend they aren't there or demonize those folks who dare see them or talk about them. end of my babble for the evening....

May 18, 2013 - NYTimes
Beware Social Nostalgia
By STEPHANIE COONTZ


AS a historian, I’ve spent much of my career warning people about the dangers of nostalgia. But as a mother, watching my son graduate from medical school on Thursday, I have been awash in nostalgia all week.

In personal life, the warm glow of nostalgia amplifies good memories and minimizes bad ones about experiences and relationships, encouraging us to revisit and renew our ties with friends and family. It always involves a little harmless self-deception, like forgetting the pain of childbirth.

In society at large, however, nostalgia can distort our understanding of the world in dangerous ways, making us needlessly negative about our current situation.

Nineteenth-century Americans were extremely worried, the historian Susan Matt points out, about the incidence of nostalgia, which was the term used to describe homesickness in those days. According to physicians of the era, acute nostalgia led to “mental dejection,” “cerebral derangement” and sometimes even death. The only known cure was for the afflicted individual to go home, and if that wasn’t possible, the sufferer was seriously out of luck.

Such was the quandary facing soldiers during the Civil War, when going home constituted desertion. Doctors diagnosed 5,000 clinical cases of nostalgia in Union soldiers and determined that 74 men had died from the affliction. To contain the epidemic, military officials prohibited Army bands from playing “Home, Sweet Home,” while ministers and officers avoided references in sermons or speeches that might touch off a new outbreak.

When present-day nostalgia involves homesickness for a period of time or a way of life that is gone for good, it’s time to follow the example of 19th century military commanders and stop fostering longings for the past that produce “mental dejection” about our prospects for the future.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the good things in our past. But memories, like witnesses, do not always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We need to cross-examine them, recognizing and accepting the inconsistencies and gaps in those that make us proud and happy as well as those that cause us pain.

In my work as a historian and in my relationships as a friend, teacher, wife and mother, I have come to think that the most useful way to understand the past, and make it work for you, is to look at the trade-offs and contradictions that, however deeply buried, can be uncovered in every memory, good or bad.

The psychologist John Snarey has studied men who had very difficult childhoods because of their fathers’ poor parenting. Some of these men replicated the same problems in their relationships with their own children. But others were able to use the memory of what their fathers did wrong to chart a different course in their own parenting. What separated the two groups was that the successful ones neither idealized their own fathers nor focused on their shortcomings. Rather, they placed their fathers’ failures in context, turning their anger “into a sense of sadness for and understanding of the conditions under which their own fathers had functioned.” Their unhappy memories became a guide for avoiding bad behavior rather than an excuse for it.

Happy memories also need to be put in context. I have interviewed many white people who have fond memories of their lives in the 1950s and early 1960s. The ones who never cross-examined those memories to get at the complexities were the ones most hostile to the civil rights and the women’s movements, which they saw as destroying the harmonious world they remembered.

But others could see that their own good experiences were in some ways dependent on unjust social arrangements, or on bad experiences for others. Some white people recognized that their happy memories of childhood included a black housekeeper who was always available to them because she couldn’t be available to her children.

Some sons and daughters realized that their idyllic summers at the beach happened only because their mother had given up something else she had very much wanted to do.

Some husbands — and those were among the most touching interviews I did — came to understand that the homes they regarded as personal oases seemed more like prisons to their wives. They were then able to support a wife or daughter who chose a course that took a man out of his comfort zone.

These people didn’t repudiate, regret or feel guilty about their good memories. But because they also dug for the exceptions and sacrifices that lurked behind their one-dimensional view of the past, they were able to adapt to change. Both as individuals and as a society, we must learn to view the past in three dimensions before we can move into the fourth dimension of the future.

Stephanie Coontz, a guest columnist, teaches at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Cross Examing our Beliefs and Memoires - from the New York Times   Mon May 20, 2013 1:52 am

I like the expression colours that goes with shadows.
I feel the basis of zen is the shadows and colours,pretending they are not there is a bit stupid,and likewise the opposite teachers like Maezumi were very good about accepting shadows and colours but not very good at the knowing what to do when you know you have them, what do you do, accept them and let them flourish, put them in a box and pretend they are not there,suppress them. ....First prize is 'My Latest Designer Wear Hair Shirt' for the best solution of what do I do with my shadows (and colours)
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Cross Examing our Beliefs and Memoires - from the New York Times   Tue May 21, 2013 11:52 am

This recent story relates to this point. Religious thinking can decrease tolerance, especially acceptance of ambiguity, complexity. I do not think this study only applies to Christianity. Clearly, we have seen in the Zen and Buddhist communities tendencies towards denial and black and white thinking, especially as it relates to their leaders, their mythology / lineage stories, their specialness

Thoughts of Faith and God Decrease Tolerance for Ambiguity

New research finds exposure to Christian ideas—or even standing in the shadow of a cathedral—nudges people in the direction of black-and-white thinking.

May 16, 2013 • By Tom Jacobs


It’s clear that religious faith confers a variety of benefits. Being part of a community of fellow believers has been shown to boost both mental and physical health.

But at what cost? New research suggests one disturbing answer: Thoughts of faith and God apparently spur people to view the world in black-or-white terms.

A just-published study finds exposure to Christian concepts or imagery increases one’s intolerance for ambiguity. This dynamic was demonstrated in a variety of experiments conducted in three different countries: Germany, Austria, and the United States.

Writing in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, psychologists Christina Sagioglou of the University of Innsbruck and Matthias Forstmann of the University of Cologne note that “one prototypical characteristic of Christian morality seems to be the two-tier distinction between ‘virtuous’ and ‘sinful’ behaviors.”
A new study finds exposure to Christian concepts or imagery increases one’s intolerance for ambiguity. This dynamic was demonstrated in a variety of experiments in three different countries.

With that in mind, the researchers reasoned that exposing people to Christian content would “shift a person’s cognitive style” so that he or she thinks in more dualistic terms, and is less comfortable with ambiguity. They present evidence supporting their theory in the form of five experiments.

The first featured 65 participants recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. “Ostensibly to assess word comprehension,” they began by unscrambling 10 sets of words to form simple sentences. For half of the participants, five of the sets contained religion-related words such as faith, church, heaven, prayer, and divine.

Afterwards, they completed a 20-item survey designed to measure tolerance for ambiguity. Participants were asked their level of agreement with such statements as “There is a right way and a wrong way to do almost everything” and “It bothers me when I am unable to follow another person’s train of thought.” Finally, they answered five questions measuring their underlying level of religiosity.

Those who had worked with the religion-related words reported greater discomfort with ambiguity. They also generally perceived less ambiguity, in that they were more likely to agree with statements such as “practically every solution has a problem.”

Among those who did not unscramble sentences containing religious words, higher levels of religiousness “significantly correlated with ambiguity intolerance,” the researchers add. This suggests a black-or-white attitude is intrinsic to the mindset of the very religious, while for others, it can be triggered by exposure to religious concepts.

A second experiment, featuring 49 participants, found this dynamic also held true for visual stimuli. After they unscrambled either religion-related or neutral sentences, as above, participants were shown “two black-and-white pencil drawings of female faces: one ambiguous, the other non-ambiguous.” They then rated how much they liked each, on a one-to-seven scale.

The straightforward drawing featured the face of a young woman, seen clearly from the front. The ambiguous drawing can be interpreted in one of two ways: as a depiction of a young woman, as seen from behind and slightly to one side, or an image of an older woman seen in profile. Neither drawing contained any references to religion.

Those with religious concepts on their mind “liked the ambiguous drawing significantly less,” the researchers report. “Participants primed with religion clearly preferred the non-ambiguous drawing to the ambiguous one.”

Perhaps the most striking experiment featured 81 people who were approached at one of two central locations in Innsbruck, Austria: the cathedral square, or a square surrounded by civic buildings. They filled out a questionnaire measuring their tolerance for ambiguity, and their underlying religiosity.

The results: While there was no difference in religiosity between the two groups, “participants approached at the cathedral indeed reported significantly more ambiguity intolerance than did participants approached at the civic square,” the researchers report.

This echoes earlier research that Americans whose polling place is a church are more likely to support candidates and causes supported by the religious right. The looming presence of religious iconography is apparently enough to influence at least some people’s feelings and perceptions.

One obvious question raised by this study is whether this effect is specific to Christianity. Sagioglou and Forstmann doubt it, noting that a 1981 study found a correlation between ambiguity intolerance and religiosity among Indian Muslims and Hindus. If their thesis is right, any faith that divides people or actions into “good” and “bad” will presumably have the same effect.

It’s worth noting that some experts on Christian ethics, such as Harvey Cox in his sophisticated analysis of Jesus’ parables, find a great deal of nuance. But this research suggests that, in most people’s minds, religion is linked with moral rigidity.

As the researchers write, this attitude no doubt gives people structure in their lives and contributes to their well-being. But it’s also a plausible route to prejudice and general close-mindedness.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the television drama that best dramatizes ethical gray areas, The Good Wife, is also one of the very few in which the lead character is an atheist.
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