This weekend I heard about a man who thought the earth was round before it was cool. Martin Behaim claimed a round earth back before Columbus and got laughed at, just like people laughed at heliocentrism. (You'd think we'd learn our lesson.)
A few like Columbus wondered if he might be right and went exploring. They discovered that the earth is round. In fact, the world isn't just round; there's a whole other land mass over there. Does 'America' sound like a good name?
But Martin Behaim, who was responsible for the discovery happening at all, didn't believe them. "There are no extra continents. You hit India and just didn't realize it. You scientists are idiots."
Behaim had part of the truth, and because of him, we discovered America. But he had only part of the truth. If we relied wholly on his view of truth, I might not live in Virginia.
There are all sorts of truths in my life. Everything from the earth being round to carrots being healthy; dragons being extinct; war being wrong; and God being real. Some of them I'm certain of; others less so.
Some of the ones I'm certain of, though, are wrong.
I don't know which ones, of course, or I wouldn't believe they were true. I can't wait to reach the end of my life and have God point out all the things I got wrong. Eternal education, here I come!* In the meantime, I have no idea what I've got wrong. I can either muddle through or I can learn.
Everyone has a little corner of the truth. No one has the whole truth. If someone did, the rest of us would be redundant. But everyone has a piece of it, and all our pieces are different. I'm not even sure that, collectively, we have the whole truth. Truth seems to big for humanity to encompass.
Fact is, at times I learned more about God from those who don't believe in him than those who do. I learned more about perfection from those who aren't than from those who strive to be. I learned more about beauty from people whose taste in art runs distinctly against my own.
We learn from those who are different from us. Perhaps we learn most from our opposites. It's like looking in a backwards-mirror: you see everything you aren't, thus seeing what you are more clearly. When you can find the good, beautiful, and true in your opposite, you find the evil, ugly, or untrue in yourself.
I'll give you a real-life example.
Everyone judges other people; that's human nature. We have to decide who to befriend; who to date; and who to avoid at parties. We all have different judgment paradigms for this, gleaned from our parent cultures.
I was raised in the Christian subculture. As my social circle diversified, I discovered judgment paradigms vastly different to my own. In soccer, I met girls whose paradigm was based on appearances. In liberal circles, judgment was based on how open-minded someone was. In literary circles, people care how much you read and analyze.
I began to question my paradigms: whether they were ethical, or worthwhile, or matched up with my philosophy. I questioned whether they even matched the Christian theology they claimed to come from. Many did not.
The more I compared myself with the diverse judgment paradigms around me, the more things I saw in myself that needed change. I didn't want to judge based on arbitrary modesty and swearing standards any more. I didn't want to judge based on education, because I kept meeting people without as much education who had a lot to teach me. I didn't want to judge my LGBT peers and friends, because love is something I believe in and I don't see the Bible saying that any sexual orientation is wrong.
From people who were different, I learned how to judge (or not judge) other people. If I'd held to my original "truths" about how to judge good friends from bad, I would've missed out on a lot of good friendships--friendships which in turn taught me other truths.
Truths like common grace. Hanging out with people who believe in different Gods or no god, I saw that my God still works on behalf of people who don't acknowledge him. That showed me God's love doesn't hinge on reciprocation and freed me to accept it without fear of getting on his bad side.
I learned about meditation practices from friends interested in Eastern mysticism. I used those calming techniques to conquer stress in college. Around that time, I read some articles about neural down-time: resting and thinking about "nothing" is beneficial. That science, plus meditation, in turn gave me a deeper understanding of prayer.
It's all connected. There are little bits of truth floating around everywhere, if you just look for them. No belief system has all of them. Christianity has some messed up corners. The Crusades? Slavery in the South? The continued subjection of women? Do you know how much abuse goes on within the church? We could do with letting go of some things and learning better ways.
That's not to say you should believe nothing. Conviction is at the heart of action. Everyone who changed our world in a significant way believed something. But they also wrestled. They questioned. They traveled.
Listen, learn, and take away the good.
A lot of hurt in the world can be precluded this way. Friendships form when we find common ground. Ignorance ends when we're open to learning. You can only learn so much from hanging out with people who parrot your opinions back to you.
I know lots of people who unfriend facebookers who post constantly about things they disagree on, and plenty of us will avoid inviting for dinner someone who is a trigger for us. That's fine. If someone's just going to make you mad, alleviate that.
But in a world where Newsstand and Google News tailor which stories they show us, we should be careful about cutting out dissenting voices. Where else will you hear things that make you uncomfortable?
If you want to have a good life, take a tip from a writer: the best stories are ones where the protagonist changes. Where tough situations force the main character to face new facts and readjust their viewpoint.
Meet someone different today. Learn something new.
Word count: 1,071. Almost. Sorry.
* I'm not being sarcastic, FYI. All you sarcasm-mongers can quiet down. I'm seriously excited about eternity.
** That one may or may not be sarcastic. Interpret freely.