Once, I was giving a public lecture in New York. Everybody seemed to be enjoying it quite a bit, except for one man. He looked bored and fidgety as he stared out the window. Finally, I couldn’t help myself and asked him. “What do you think of what I’m saying?” I asked.
He responded by saying, “Oh, I already know all that stuff.”
“Oh really? You already knew about the Three Realms of Existence, my perspective on Darwinism and Creationism…?” I continued, listing more examples.
He said, “No, I just don’t care about any of that.”
My jaw dropped as I looked at him in disbelief.
“So,” I said. “Anything you already know is a waste of time, and anything you don’t know just doesn’t interest you. Where is there any room for learning?”
He said, “Oh, I teach the same sort of thing, so I don’t really need to listen to it all.”
This attitude might seem a little humorous, except for the fact that it’s so sad, not to mention common. Incredibly, we often form our opinions and judgments with very limited knowledge and have no interest in looking any deeper into it. Oftentimes these judgments are a result of a first impression. The first impression of anyone or anything that is new is very difficult to get past. It becomes our assumption of truth.
Gossip is a very common source of limited knowledge and unlimited judgment. A friend of yours could receive a phone call from someone who vents some slanderous or partially informed opinion about a situation involving you. That biased information could trigger a lingering, though unfair judgment of you. Such judgments can be very difficult to get past. Try as you might to clear up the issue, that judgment could be permanently fixed in your friend’s mind. Limited knowledge can create permanent and unlimited judgments.
Tragically, we live in a critical and suspicious world. Cynically, we call it having street smarts. P.T. Barnum even coined well-known phrases like “A sucker is born every minute,” and “Nobody ever lost a nickel underestimating the American public.” With limited knowledge, people are just naturally inclined to think the worst. This makes a person feel really sorry for famous people. They become victims of limited tabloid knowledge. And if a negative opinion is formed of them, the judgment becomes permanent. For example, Marilyn Monroe was portrayed as a dumb blond. In actuality, she was very intelligent. Wayne Newton is another great example. He was pigeonholed as a teenager singing Danke Schoen, and to this day, he has to live down that limiting boyish image.
Unfortunately, we gravitate toward negative gossip and rumors to form many of our first impressions. Sadly, somehow negative perspectives are more believable. Why is that? Do we consider it streetwise to think the worst? Or maybe believing the worst case scenario seems to be a wise, safety-first approach?
Many of our viewpoints in relationship with life are based upon limited knowledge. It creates a twisted perception of reality which we call truth. Then we live our lives in accord with that twisted truth. By understanding our tendency to adhere to strong opinions based on very limited knowledge, we can move past it. We can wait to learn more before we judge situations and other people. This is how we become wise, thoughtful, insightful, and open-minded individuals. It’s about looking deeper than the surface impressions. To live better, look deeper.
Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. Michael Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a ‘bridge’ between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Dr. Mamas writes on a variety of subjects on his blogs, MichaelMamas.net and RationalSpirituality.org.