why do people profess things they don’t know to be true?

Vic Shayne
author
The Self is a Belief — The idea that causes suffering

The School of Athens by Raphael

was thinking of entitling this little article: “Why are people full of baloney even when most of the time they aren’t trying to be?” But that sounded too harsh. But apparently not harsh enough to avoid sharing it with you anyway…

Why do people say things that they do not know to be true? Because we are all trained to do this. We are all psychologically conditioned to absorb information, beliefs, attitudes, and ideas from the most influential people in our lives and then accept them as if they are true. Without question. We just do it. Isn’t that crazy?

To make things even more crazy, we even accept other people’s ideas that tell us who we are. Can you imagine someone telling you who you are and what to believe? You don’t have to imagine, because this is what happens to all of us from the moment we are born. Our parents, teachers, religious leaders, culture, relatives, and other authority figures tell us we are either Hindus or Zoroastrians, that we’re Democrats or Republicans, that we are to be wary of people with darker or lighter skin, that Muslims are terrorists, that we are better people because we drive an American-made car, that organic food is no better than conventional food, that Jews have horns, that guns don’t kill people, and so on.

Quite often, beliefs are so entrenched and strong that people won’t even be open to debate, logic, discussion, or proof. Beliefs are good enough, because they create the little bubble that becomes the world.

There are thousands of beliefs that we cling to without having observed for ourselves whether they are true. The end result is that we are living secondhand lives. And most people never question or see this fact.

How, then, can we turn the ship around and find out the truth about anything? How do we get away from this automatic, conditioned way of thinking that colors our reality and all our relationships with people, animals, nature, and the world?

applying this to my own situation
I used to be full of baloney and shared the baloney with reckless abandon. Then I read that people say things without knowing they are true because they just take other people’s ideas as truth without any fact-finding of their own. This idea inspired me to find out whether I, my sense of self, was no more than some sort of facade — and that I was a person made out of beliefs that shaped all my relationships, thinking, tendencies, actions, and interactions.

an important caveat about our baloney ideas
I would add one caveat here just for clarity: I’m mainly speaking of the way we see, or perceive, ourselves and our world, and not necessarily the way we use information to learn a language, read a menu, find our way home in the dark, or do our jobs. For these practical things we need to take a lot of ideas and teachings on faith; information and the teachings of authority figures are quite useful. But when it comes to knowing who we are and our sense of happiness or suffering, the problem begins with the sense of self as the thing that’s informing us because it’s made out of an accretion of concepts that are not our own.

When we accept such concepts then we are not living an authentic life, we are living someone else’s idea of our lives. Think about it. Little children, hardly three-feet tall and under 70 pounds, believe in Jesus without knowing who Jesus was or having any way of understanding anything that he was supposed to have said or stood for. Just like their parents, they can’t tell the difference between a metaphor or a literal account. They tell their classmates that if they don’t believe in Jesus they will go to hell. They don’t know what hell is either, except that it’s scary and hotter than Arizona mid-summer. The same child’s mother and father sit in church every Sunday and listen to some fellow in a fancy robe dictate to them what they should believe, who the bad guys are, and the consequences are of not believing a set of manmade rules. As the authority for their admonitions and declarations, they cite passages in a book written by yet another group of people who are taking someone else’s word for the truth. On and on it goes, all the way back to the beginning of humankind. It’s the definition of insanity: extreme foolishness or irrationality.

And so the whole world is spreading baseless and secondhand ideas like contagions. Are you part of the problem? Most of us don’t think we are, but we’re only fooling ourselves if we continue to take other people’s word about who we are and what reality is and then perpetuate the beliefs through our own communications. It doesn’t matter whether our authority figures are priests, rabbis, scientists, Buddhists, philosophers, psychologists, journalists, sports figures, professors, or mushroom eaters. It doesn’t matter who they are or how well-intentioned they are — they just have no way of knowing who you are from your own point-of-view and from the way you feel. Your life is supposed to be yours, and all about you, right? So why are you living someone else’s idea of who you are supposed to be?

looking into my own sense of self
It took me years to enquire into my own sense of self, because I wanted to know who I was beyond this ball of ideas that were imposed upon me by authority figures. What, I wondered, could exist beneath this me that I had always taken myself to be. Eventually, I found my discovery to be life-altering, but I also came to realize that self-enquiry is not for everyone. You have to go into it without really being concerned about observing that the person you thought yourself to be doesn’t really exist except as an idea. I’m not sure most people can handle the implications of such a discovery, but if you can do it then you will find out that you have been harboring ideas, beliefs, and preconceptions that are polluting your mind and the world. Some of these are trivial, while other ideas are quite harmful to others.

I discovered a lot of things about this me that I’ve been carrying around, including that my sense of self is formed out of an accretion of thoughts that have occupied my attention since early childhood, sticking to me like barnacles on a ship. I also discovered that my mind was full of ideas that weren’t my own; they were secondhand. While ideas that are passed along are practical for knowing how to speak Italian, how to use tools to fix things, and how to operate a lawnmower or a blender, when it comes to relationships and interactions, my preconceived notions were causing problems for me and everyone else. So I gave up believing and assuming I knew how life works in favor of really finding answers through my own observation.

This did two main things for me: It showed me how much space and mental energy I had been expending throughout my sixty-five years of life to harbor all sorts of useless, misdirected, and erroneous ideas that I learned from other people. And it showed me that most people say things as if they are true without really knowing that they are.

hardened cement is hard to toss away
There are a lot of comments and diatribes by people about how you can completely get rid of the ego. Some call it ego death. From my own enquiry —and not from any sense of logic or from what I have read or heard — the ego never disappears, because it is a set of conditioned thoughts that are implanted in the psyche. Instead, however, the attachment to these thoughts is what can change. The attachment is the sense of identity. We can stop identifying with the self. Instead, we can understand that we are actors playing a role. We can take the role seriously but not become fooled into believing that we’re really King Lear or Lady Macbeth.

With enough self-enquiry we can realize that we are not separate from anyone or anything else and we can start thinking and acting for ourselves.

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Vic Shayne

…writer for 40+ years, mind/body practitioner, self-enquiry meditation, NY Times best selling author (https://amzn.to/2CeaSE), consultant, researcher.