The Facts Are Irrelevant

Behavior-ChangeIn fact, there are no facts. Facts are components of the world of form which mystics have known for thousands of years exist only in the human mind (as opposed to the one Mind responsible for Creation). We each create our own facts as we go about creating our own individual reality. In this paragraph, which we concede is more than a little mind-boggling for most people, we are referring to facts as seen from the perspective of the Absolute or Simple Reality (P-A).

Going back to the common context of the relative (P-B), we can still rattle the cages of conventional thinkers with the statement from Maggie Koerth-Bakers’ article in The New York Times Magazine entitled “How To Move A Mind.” She cites research to support her subtitle: “Changing a strongly held belief has little to do with actual facts.” The upshot of her article is a conclusion those of us who are students of metaphysics are already familiar with and that is that human behavior is anything but rational.

Among the questions that weigh heavily on the minds of those of us concerned with the future of humanity are: Can people change their self-destructive behaviors and if so, how do they do it? It turns out, not surprisingly, that changed behaviors involve changes in attitudes, beliefs and values which we have learned are the components of a person’s worldview or story.

The “story” we share in the American community, for example, may be the source of our unsustainable behavior. “We tend to side with people who share our identity—even when the facts disagree.”  The American story is far out of alignment with “the facts” and therein lies the problem. Most Americans tend to agree how to move the American narrative forward (pursuing more plenty, pleasure and power) but that agreed-upon narrative is leading in a direction toward greater not less dissatisfaction and suffering.

In the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama changed from opposing to supporting gay marriage. Mitt Romney changed from supporting to opposing the same kind of health care reform he supported as governor of Massachusetts. “They didn’t “flip-flop;” they experienced, as social scientists say, an attitude change.”  In truth they were seeking the position that would get them more votes.

Now we will introduce the complicating factor of emotions and how they influence changes in belief and attitude. Again, those of us “in the know” have learned that the goal of awakening as Buddha did involves choosing response instead of reaction (afflictive emotions). It is at this point that the vessel of humanity has run up on the jagged reef of unconscious afflictive emotion. No amount of factual information can save humanity from this ultimate outcome of our misguided, unconscious voyage.

Professor of psychology at the Stern School of Business at NYU, Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, told Koerth-Baker about the intersection of attitudes and emotions. “Moral attitudes are especially difficult to change, Haidt said, because the emotions attached to those preferences largely define who we are. Certain beliefs are so important for a society or group that they become part of how you prove your identity.”

It has proven impossible for most people in the 6000-year-old story of humanity to respond to the urgings of their most profound teacher/mystics. “People change their minds all the time, even about very important matters. It’s just hard to do when the stakes are high. That’s why marshalling data and making rational arguments won’t work. Whether you’re changing your own mind or someone else’s, the key is emotional, persuasive storytelling.”

Our author has revealed probably more than she knows. First, what are the “stakes” she is talking about? The stakes are abandoning (disconnecting from) the refuge of the survival strategy of the false self. We have to give up our reactive behaviors by which we deny, escape from or distract ourselves from our self-destructive and reactive behaviors. We are afraid to let go of what we believe helps us to avoid the pain and chaos of the unknown. We opt instead for the familiar, even though most of us acknowledge that our behaviors are self-destructive.

“Familiarity breeds contempt” is the old saw, no doubt one of tens of thousands that make up the structure of the commonly accepted beliefs in P-B which just happens to be the opposite of how humans actually behave. Let’s see how both story and familiarity can transform a group from the rejected other to a people embraced despite their being “different.”

“Researchers speculate that children who grew up seeing friendly gay people on TV will be more likely to support gay marriage as adults, regardless of other political affiliations and religious beliefs. Once you care about a character, you can find a way to fit them into your identity.”  This is the opinion of Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of Redirect, a book about how we change our minds and behavior. Wilson says that stories are more important than data (the facts). We should also not miss the fact that in the foregoing story, familiarity with a person opens the door to feelings of compassion for rather than fear of the person who hitherto had been the other.

Trying to persuade people to change behaviors with data and rational arguments fails because we are not rational beings but rather we are emotion-driven beings. And finally, what will work, as we are learning in this chapter is “persuasive storytelling.”

This essay is reaching the conclusion we already knew but it never hurts to support the foundations of our process of Self-transformation. The story of Oneness, which was Buddha’s Great Insight, determined his new identity as the “awakened one” which in turn drove his change in behavior. Needless to say, it works with all of us the same way.

If we exist in a state of “mythlessness,” that is to say without a profound story based on the principles of Simple Reality, we will never find our way out of our “mind-generated” and unsatisfactory illusion. Our identity, especially at the unconscious level, will continue to have us behaving like crazed psychopaths, driven mad by our inability to find our way out of the maze of self-destruction.

It is time for a new myth and we can be the creators of that new myth. We are learning what the details of a healthy myth should be; we have only to overcome our fear of letting go of a story that is killing us. That may not be easy but we would be crazy not to.


References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Where Am I?  The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality.
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival.


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