We All of Us have Our Demons

When I was in my teens, I read in a book by the philosopher, Walter Kaufmann, of a study done by a couple of political scientists.  The scientists discovered that most people have arrived at their core political beliefs by the age of 18, and will not for the most part change their core beliefs afterwards.

Those findings riled up Kaufmann, who was simply unable to believe that anyone who went through life with an unchanging set of core opinions was paying proper attention to the world around them.

As for myself, reading of that study both frightened me and left me tearful.

I was a year or two from turning 18, and — to be quite blunt about it — I hated myself with passion and I hated myself to the point the days were a chore.  So, perhaps you can understand how I felt chased by the study’s findings, as if the findings were some kind of spiritual hounds.

If the study was right, then wouldn’t  my future be suffocating?  I felt then a sorrowful fear of living much longer if that happened — if I ceased to learn anything important beyond what I already knew; if from 18 on I never could change; if the person I was then would always be me.

Perhaps for the first time in my life I tasted the notion life could go catastrophically wrong for me, for even though I hated myself back then, I yet always imagined I would get better.

Despite those negative feelings — or perhaps precisely because of them — the study inspired me through out my university years to keep an open mind to the new ideas I was encountering in the sciences and humanities.  Certainly,   it wasn’t the only reason I managed to keep an open mind, but I thought about that study countless times in those years.  Or more on the mark, I thought about the idea it had introduced me to — the frightening idea we can ossify.

I’ve gone through so many changes since 18 that I don’t worry at all anymore about living a life frozen into stone.  It can even at times seem funny to me now I once long ago spent a tearful afternoon on my bed because I had just then learned people — most people — will, in some psychological sense, seize up early on in their lives.

I have also learned, though, we all of us have our demons.

That was once one of mine.  What’s one of yours?

 

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6 thoughts on “We All of Us have Our Demons

  1. While some of my core beliefs were taking shape at age 18, they were by no means fully formed. Maturity and life experience have fleshed out my beliefs (and even changed a few). I’d be horrified if someone believed the exact same thing they did at 18!

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  2. Ahab: “I’d be horrified if someone believed the exact same thing they did at 18!”

    I believe I know exactly how you feel, my friend, but think of those fundamentalists you are fighting each day! As a group, do they not value the person who’s worldview never changes? Are they not for the most part the sort of people who would like to have the same opinions at 60 as they had at 16? That has been my impression of them. What is yours? You are an expert in them!

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  3. There is so much perspective that comes only with age and experience. The thought of still stagnating in my 18-year-old core beliefs at 46 is — Ahab said it — horrifying. Of course my core beliefs at that time were heavily influenced/indoctrinated and had a tendency to narrow the mind. Also and generally speaking, 18-year-olds have two inherent flaws: (1) They think they are invincible; and (2) They think they know everything. People who never grow out of that mindset are stunted in their emotional and intellectual development.

    In my view, being open-minded and thus open to changing our views is a vital part of growing up and growing wise — with the knowledge that we aren’t invincible and we don’t know so much after all.

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  4. CD “…18-year-olds have two inherent flaws: (1) They think they are invincible; and (2) They think they know everything.”

    Especially the males, would you say? Or are the 18 year old females just as flawed?

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  5. “As a group, do they not value the person who’s worldview never changes? Are they not for the most part the sort of people who would like to have the same opinions at 60 as they had at 16? That has been my impression of them. What is yours? You are an expert in them!”

    Expert? I’m a rank amateur at all this! 🙂

    To answer your question, yes and no. I’ve heard fundamentalists talk about people deepening in their faith and gaining spiritual insights as time goes on, so they do respect some degree of evolution. On the other hand, their basic attitudes and beliefs stay the same, so the evolution is not profound at all.

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