When we forget who we truly are,
we turn to external rules
to define goodness and morality.
When we no longer live from our heart,
we search for clever strategies
to guide our actions.
This is only a pretense of life
Duty and loyalty become substitutes
for our inability to love ourselves
Then we insist our leaders heal the suffering
created by our own divided minds.
From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 18 – in A Path and a Practice, by William Martin
We certainly know what divided minds are like, don’t we? “Divided” is the primary descriptive our our society in these chaotic times. We don’t know where to turn or who to trust, so we end up turning to our own confirmation bias. That is, we seek out social media and sound-bite media that confirms our notions of “we’re right, they’re wrong” mindset so that we can feel some illusory sense of stability in the midst of seismic shifts in society. When we read or see “information” that reinforces our bias we naturally return to that information regardless of its foundation in responsible journalism or science. It may confirm our pessimism or our optimism; it may reinforce the righteousness and logic of our own opinions or ridicule and demean the opinions of others. Either way it is an addictive unhelpful behavior.
Most of you are too young to remember Walter Cronkite, the venerable news anchor of the CBS Evening News. I remember “Uncle Walter” in tears at the assassination of John Kennedy. I remember his uncontainable excitement at Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. It is not just nostalgia speaking when I say that I remember a time when both journalism and science was trusted as sources of information. No more. Without a fundamental trust in those institutions, where can we stand? Who will tell us what is real? Who will speak the truth without the agenda to sell us something?
My first and foremost foundation for reality is Nature. Step outside. Air, clouds, trees, streams, animals, birds, breezes on your skin, dirt under your feet – this is REAL. Without this foundation there can be no true perception of reality. From that point we are navigating the dangerous territory of opinion, bias, and agenda. It will take courage and honesty confrontation of our hearts and souls to find our way.
I have stopped participating in social media or sound-bite news media. I need to abstain from the addiction of confirmation bias. But I deliberately support my bias toward open-hearted compassion, joy, and understanding by placing myself in the company of friends and teachers who intentionally facilitate those qualities. The internet can be a weapon of mass distraction and bias, but it can also provide valuable support for a life of grace, compassion, and love. It contains many sites of teachers, do-it-yourselfers, support groups, and communities. It requires, however, a sober mind to navigate it.
It is important to recognize the addictive nature of confirmation bias and adopt an extremely cautious and mindful approach to the internet. I honestly believe that most of us need to abstain completely from many forms of internet technology. Saying that we can should just, “pick and choose what we see on the internet” is like telling an alcoholic that they should just, “drink responsibly.”
So I am learning to use the internet to support who I am, and more importantly, who I want to become. It matters who I listen to; who I choose to inform and teach me; what music, vistas, conversations, and perspectives I allow to permeate the membrane of my mind. There are thousands of teachers, support groups, and communities from which I can select input that will support my deepest and highest version of myself.
Right now I am enjoying a website called, COMMUNE to support myself. It is not expensive and features some brilliant teachers. YouTube is filled with the offerings of teachers but you know how dangerous that particular site is – talk about “weapon of mass distraction!” You probably know how to find support and teaching better than I do, but – doing it – that’s another thing. We are constantly making choices of who and what will set the direction for our life. Can we begin to do it consciously and with purpose?