Thursday, March 12, 2009

Question authority!

The happiest days of my life were growing up on my grand parent’s farm.
I would say I had an idyllic enchanted childhood, full of magic and wonder.
My grand father was an enlightened spiritual man and also a harsh anti communist critic.
His modest social background and a dozen war medals from both WW I and WW II shielded him from the communist persecution.

He was my first teacher and mentor.
By the age of five he taught me how to read as well as introducing me to the ancient art of herbal remedies and magic.
He passed on to me his wisdom and love of nature.

Among his teachings one that he kept repeating all through my life was:
“Question authority”
Question your teachers, your priests, your leaders, the press the radio and TV.
Look behind words to images, look behind words and images to actions, look behind actions to results! Reality is the only truth!
I follow that advice all of my life.
In communism that was not a luxury it was a survival necessity.

I remember watching the nightly news on state owned TV.
Every night we would have the international news, which invariably were the glorious accomplishments of our Soviet brothers fallowed by the catastrophic failures of the West.

They would present us something like images of Down Town LA skid row.
They would show homeless people sleeping in card board boxes but inevitably they would show the sky scrapers in the background, and while the commentator would blast that the American worker has no home to live in, I would ask myself “Who lives in those amazing buildings in the background?”
This has been the way my mind has become wired and it is still working the same way today.

I also always believed that my life was the result of my actions.
Therefore I always felt that my destiny, my success as well as my failures are up to me not to others.
Coming to America was supposed to open that possibility of creating my own destiny even more, and even if I knew that freedom to succeed means freedom to fail as well, it never even crossed my mind that I would have anything but success in my new life.

Little did I know!
My first encounter with failure let me like a deer in front of an eighteen wheeler’s halogen lamps.
I always thought that failure was finding the right excuse. That without capitulation there is no failure, but some how I lost control of my actions, some how an evil me, I did not know it existed, took over my life.

Question authority!

If my life is the result of my actions and my actions go against my self who is in charge of my actions?
The one authority I have never questioned, my own, came into questioning.
My thoughts are in charge of my actions.
Everything that happens starts with a thought in my mind. Every word spoken, every movement every action is first a thought.
So who is in charge of my thoughts?

This is the unpleasant truth my therapy revealed to me.
I wasn’t in charge of my thoughts as I thought.
My thoughts were the result of my beliefs, to be more precise of my belief-emotions.
My reason was nothing but a servant. The guy that comes up with a good explanation for the emotional decision my subconscious mind was taking for me.

Question authority!

If I had to take back control of my life, my belief system had to come into questioning.


Barry said...

In my case, I've always thought that the biggest, most important Authority was myself. And it's been very hard to question myself deeply. And yet my beliefs and mind-habits are precisely what keep me from living with freedom, compassion, creativity, and wisdom. Who am I?

Rob R said...

I think it's good the way this attitude served you in under communist rule.

I personally think that this attitude has its limits. While Gautama said something like this, I would note the importance it played in the failure that was modern western philosophy which started with Descartes method of doubt and was sumarized in Marx's statement to "Doubt everything".

The limit I see on the idea that we should doubt everything occurs when we turn it on itself. I doubt that we should doubt everything. In the west, we seem to have the philosophical bias that the default attitude of rationality is doubt. I would suggest that this is wrong and that rather than doubting everything suspecting its veracity, instead we should be critical of everything. Here, we aren't constantly questioning out of doubt as if we could never know anything. Instead we are questioning for understanding, and this I believe is very fruitful. And it doesn't leave behind the possibility that what we believe might be wrong, but it rightfully leaves behind any obsession on the issue which would in fact take up more mental energy and time that could be spent developing a view of the world that has elegance, usefulness, and explanatory power.

Of course, I know you principally were applying this to human authorities and of course, it is important to be wary of the limits and errors that human authorities have. But then again, even with civilization, at least the best of civilizations, a cornerstone is trust. But of course, people do have to be trustworthy, and when they aren't, it seems the only way to maintain order is through force and violence. Of course the communists with their totalitarian way of life ruled with distrust and as a result, they proved themselves untrustworthy with protecting human dignity and quality of life.

Again though, thank you for posting this. Your journey continues to be a very interesting one.

Psiplex said...

Questioning authority often reveals the truth about our two perceptions. The best result is that we can see each other's viewpoints and correct invalid assumptions. The other good thing about questioning authority is what you discover about your own true nature.

Ted Bagley said...

To question authority is to question control, me thinks.

This Brazen Teacher said...

THIS is why I love teaching.

Why? kids say...


WHY must I do what you say? Why must a learn THIS? This doesn't make SENSE.

I love when they ask "why" because often I realize in those moments- that I hadn't really thought about the answer to that question either.

Sylvie said...

Do you ever wonder what life would be like without all the false and often negative imprinting we receive as a matter of social conditioning growing up? How clear you could be, and how much more "truth" you would see in the world if we didn't have to clear out all that mud from our mind pool?

OTOH, maybe it's there to keep things interesting for us.

Great post.

Flight said...

When I was much younger I would question everything , so much so that I spent much of my time being punished for it. ( why do we punish question askers ? ) Then I grew tired of being alone and I kept my thoughts to myself in order to fit in. I became a miserable angry a-hole who hated free thinkers. Then out of nowhere I ran into this person who just spoke to my soul in a way I never thought possible . I felt ashamed for keeping my little authority questioner at bay . This woman with her free spirit and brazen attitude , made me ashamed of who I became . Now because of her inspiration I am once again whole inside , happy , free , and excepting of everyone even free thinkers such as me .

I guess what I'm trying to say is never be ashamed of your inerself . If it doesn't seem right question it so we can all hear it . If it comes from within you it is your truth .

Flight said...

"The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
Albert Einstein

Aggie said...

I agree with RobR that we should question for understanding. Productive/positive attitudes are important for balance.

Buddha said...

@ Barry – I know exactly how you feel!

@ Rob – I am not advocating the doubting of everything. All I am saying is that if things are not quite right we should ask some questions :)

@ Psiplex – Yup, that is a big problem when too many people live on assumptions without any questioning. – See the Iraq war!

@ Ted – That is a good way to put it!

@ This Brazen Teacher – I thought your reason was Jun, July and August :)

@ Sylvie – I like interesting – I don’t like when people get hurt.

@ Flight – Children are born with a natural curiosity but authority doesn’t like that. Authority likes complacent people!

@ Aggie – Yes, that is the point; finding the truth!

Ted Bagley said...

"That's a good way to put it!"

The Noble is the one that is allowed to be in control.

Talon said...

I've always loved this Chinese proverb:

“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever”

Liked your post, Buddha, and your candor.

Lydia said...

Question Authority has been one of my life mantras, most definitely.
Your grandfather is now one of my heros!

C. Om said...

If authority is never questioned, we are left with a mass of sleeping and ignorant consciousness.

Excellent stuff here! :)

Rob R said...

@ Rob – I am not advocating the doubting of everything. All I am saying is that if things are not quite right we should ask some questions :)

Ah, very good then. I do believe it is nevetheless good to point out that the notion that we should question everything should not entail that everything should be doubted, but rather that everything should be understood as much as it can be understood.