Why The Hell Won’t They Listen?

This is something I’ve been meaning to share for a while.  I found this article by the BBC a few months back about how our minds are naturally tend to be biased toward anything that confirms our already-held beliefs.  This is a well-known psychological phenomenon, but what’s interesting is that the article shows how simply telling someone to be objective and unbiased isn’t enough.  You have to actually get someone to see the other side of a viewpoint before they will break out of their mental shell.

This is of course nothing new to Buddhism.  The Buddha taught that all living beings suffer from an array of mental distortions.  These are called kleśa (क्लेश) in Sanskrit, or in Japanese bonnō (煩悩).¹

It’s like wearing a pair of sunglasses for a really long time.  After a while, you forget you’re wearing them, and you just see the world as filtered through the sunglasses.  If you were to take off the sunglasses, even for a moment, you would be surprised and maybe a bit disoriented at how the world looks.  In the same way, Buddhists strive to undo these mental distortions they project onto the world around them, so they can see things as they are.

But what is the source of these distortions?  Ignorance, particularly regarding one’s own self.  As the BBC article shows, people are inherently biased toward themselves.  They form their world-view from limited information and personal experience, and selfish needs regardless of whether that’s accurate or not.  An attack on one’s views, even if they’re wrong, is an attack on one’s self.  People crave validation, sometimes even at the expense of truth.

However, if one were to see the limitations of one’s own self, and their own viewpoint, they may be able to break out and consider possibilities they never considered before.  That is the first step toward wisdom.

¹ I mention the Japanese word here only because you do here it mentioned in Japanese conversation every now and again.  “People are bonnō” and other such comments.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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