Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 6: "You are Confined Only by the Walls You Build Yourself"
We are free to decide whether to choose a restrictive, static, and debilitating belief (Stockholm Syndrome) or a liberating, dynamic, and empowering one (Lima Syndrome). The choice is up to us. As Voltaire said, "(m)an is free at the instant he wants to be." For there are destructive beliefs—in which we are both hostages and captors—but there are also constructive beliefs in which we are free to question our beliefs, conduct the necessary due diligence, then act accordingly. Indeed if there is something we really want to believe, that's what we should question the most. Otherwise, we are just fooling ourselves. "Believe those who are seeking the truth," Andre Gide once said; "doubt those who find it."
What we believed yesterday does not necessarily apply today. "At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, "at forty-five they are caves in which we hide." Thus as we mature from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, we constantly calibrate, fine-tune, even shed our beliefs through reasoning, cognition and a harsh dose of reality. As adults, our childhood beliefs in Mother Goose, Santa, goblins, leprechauns, and tooth fairies are out of the window (hopefully). Beliefs in UFOs, astrology, ghosts, psychics, mediums, Warren Commission's single-bullet theory, and Elvis sightings may or may not be embraced. Whereas beliefs in religious texts, heaven and hell, gods, or God will most likely stay. Meanwhile beliefs in the Big Bang, science, and knowledge that are based on empirical evidence may be accepted or denied. "Beliefs can be permanent, but beliefs can also be flexible," said Lisa Randall, a Harvard theoretical physicist and leading expert on particle physics and cosmology. "If I find out my belief is wrong, I change my mind."
A mural on the corner of NE Alberta and NE 22nd in Portland, Oregon, says it all: "You are Confined Only by the Walls You Build Yourself."
Do we really know what we believe in, and if so how well do we know about it? There are at least three critical issues as far as a beliefs are concerned. First, What do we believe in (for example, do we believe in communism or capitalism)? Second, Why do we believe what we believe (for example, whether because we are the cultural product of what was then the Soviet Union or the United States)? Third, How do we believe what we believe (for example, whether we are open-minded and humble or narrow-minded and entrenched in worn-out beliefs in spite of overwhelming evidence)?
What do We Believe in: What we believe is a highly subjective and personal matter and guaranteed by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, with all due respect to our Jehovah's Witnesses brothers and sisters, in no way I'm going to knock on someone's door and try to convert anyone. Indeed, touching the explosive subject of beliefs, especially our supernatural and religious beliefs, is like walking on eggshells. Hence first and foremost, in the clearest language, let me state explicitly, here and now, that I'm *not* against any belief system.
As a matter of fact, to clear any doubts, let me start by explicitly acknowledging the benefits of belief systems, which henceforth will be referred to as religion (in singular form). Briefly speaking, religion provides explanations about the Meaning of Life and why we have to suffer. It gives us a sense of purpose and direction. Religion also comforts us to deal with failures, hardships, tragedies, sickness and deaths. It defuses anxiety. Religion provides us with guidelines for everyday life. Hinduism offers a code of conduct based on karma and dharma. Buddhism offers the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. In Judaism, there is the Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith. Christians are guided by the Ten Commandments; while Muslims by the Five Pillars of Islam. Indeed religion instills values about what is right and wrong. Throughout millennia, religion has provided societies with various tools to create social solidarity as well as establish social order and control. Indeed from a sociological perspective, as argued by Peter Berger in The Sacred Canopy (1990), religion is a social construction of reality.
In addition, various religions have enlightened and benefited humankind. While Hinduism has taught us about karma yoga (the path of action), jnana yoga (the path of knowledge or wisdom), raja yoga (the path of meditation) or bhakti yoga (the path of devotion or love) in their Bhagavad Gita; Buddhism has examined the workings of the human mind through the practice of meditation, mindfulness, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity to attain enlightenment. Literally, Buddha means the Awakened One. I will even argue that Buddhism can be regarded as Homo sapiens' breakthrough in epistemology (the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope which investigates the difference between justified belief and opinion) long before the word was even coined. The Buddha repeatedly told followers to base their convictions neither on faith nor on scripture. Instead: "Investigate, analyze and see for yourself ," he told them; "only then you can believe."
In the Middle Ages, the Abbasid Caliphate's reign (750-1258) is regarded as the Islamic Golden Age. Stressing the importance of knowledge, the Abbasids were influenced by the Koranic injunctions and hadiths that "the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr." Christianity has contributed the Gregorian calendar, Renaissance masterpieces (by Catholic artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael), the modern notions of Human Rights (which can be traced back to the teachings of Jesus in the Parable of the Good Samaritan). It also established the first universities, generally regarded as an institution that has its origin in the Medieval Christian setting. (This may explain why "university politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small," as once stated by Henry Kissinger.)
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter