Comfort, Complacency, and Personal Convictions

This realization is a relatively recent one, but one that came about as a product of a dissatisfaction with the way I previously viewed the world.  I believe that believing in any one idea with such conviction that it never has the chance to be changed is detrimental not only to a person singularly but also to those around them.  This applies to any mode of thought, whether it be religious, scientific, social, or philosophical, and not just within the confines of those modes of thinking but the ideologies themselves at the most basic level.  Ideological complacency is born from comfort, and thus it can be a very difficult mold to break.  But i find it self-evident that to experience all the world has to offer this process of breaking comfortable patterns of thinking, as well as being exposed to and understanding new ideas, must never be halted.

As previously stated, this idea is a relatively new one personally.  Interestingly enough, the seed for this idea was planted years ago when i began to explore new genres of music that I had previously either shunned or never listened to.  The music I was listening to was comfortable; i knew what to expect when i listened to a new album, i knew what conventions to look for and what i liked and didn’t like about every new item i listened to.  In all this there was nothing new.  There were no original ideas or concepts in anything i was listening to and eventually I hit a wall where it wasn’t worth hearing anything new because i was already acquainted with everything that had already been done.  Why listen to something new when i can just listen to what i know?

And i hated it.  I hated never being able to find something that challenged the way i thought about the music i was listening to, or hear an idea that was totally against what i had come to expect.  It seemed that the only way to overcome this was to break the mold, expose myself to new ideas even though i might be uncomfortable with them at first and plunge into a world where i was ignorant and inexperienced.  At the same time, i was also coming to terms with the fact that this very same stagnation was also represented in the way i thought about the world around me and the people that inhabit it.

By the time i hit college, i thought i had it all figured out.  I knew how the world worked, i knew what i believed in and was ready to defend those beliefs with all the conviction i could muster.  And then came the realization that that confidence was, in fact, completely wrong and misguided, and that i was and still am ignorant to the vast majority of the world and the people who surround me.  That kind of realization i think is the path to truly opening up your mind to the world and all the wonders and ideas it possesses. However, initially it can be a very frightening prospect, one that shakes the very core of everything you know and strips your existence down to it’s most simple form, which is indeed an uncomfortable position to be in.  This is why many people will never reach the realization that, in your lifetime, you will experience a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the world you live in and can only truly begin to understand it be acknowledging your own ignorance.

This idea has the potential to be extremely problematic for many people simply because we as humans tend to have an innate fixation on a concrete truth that is both universal and achievable.  Most religions are different forms of defining ultimate truth through the conduit of an overarching pantheon and set of guidelines for living.  Science is tasked with teasing out the the concrete workings of the universe that surrounds us with the assumption that there is a finite amount of information that can be processed and understood.  Because human life exists as a definite and measurable beginning and end we tend to view the world around us as working similarly.  The idea that there are possibly no definite, concrete, and singular truths to be achieved and understood is contrary to how human beings think at the very basic level of perception.  Without a truth to strive for the concept of existence seems to become meaningless and purposeless.  This is man’s ultimate fear, that not only do they mean nothing but that the world around them means nothing, and the only meaning that can be derived from existence is evoked from within.

It doesn’t matter from what walk of life a person come from.  All lifestyles strive towards the same basic goals.  Go to school and get a good job so you’ll live a comfortable life.  Go to church and connect with God so you’ll be comfortable in life and in death.  Learn about the newest discoveries in science and find comfort in your own knowledge.  Fall in love and find comfort in someone who you truly trust.  Have children and provide for them so that they may one day live in the comfortable world you inhabit.  Philosophies and personal ideologies are simply the result of man trying to come to terms with the fact that not knowing or understanding is the most uncomfortable position to be in.  Life is simply existing through different shades of the same experiences.  It matters not who you are or where you are from, but only that you are alive.

Humans take comfort in knowing that they have the potential to understand the world around them and that, while they might not understand it within a lifetime, it is still achievable given the right circumstances.  To challenge that idea, that you should constantly challenge your personal beliefs because the world is not concrete but ever changing and formless assaults the barriers of comfort we erect from the possibility of both achievable ultimate knowledge and clearly defined purpose.  Personal convictions and beliefs are coveted because they give us comfort that in a vast sea of unpredictability and change there are certain core truths that remain constant, and we innately gravitate to that which is constant and knowable.  So to make that leap from the comfort of conceivable environment to one of almost total subjectivity and transformation it at it’s core fundamentally opposed to how humans have come to understand the world, and thus is an extremely difficult concept not only to understand but to adhere as well.


3 thoughts on “Comfort, Complacency, and Personal Convictions

  1. Matthew,

    This is a great start to the assignment. You do a great job of laying out some of the background for your beliefs. You look closely at both what you believe and why, examining the social context as well the specifics of your own thinking.

    The second half of the response needs to be developed a little more, though, in order for the assignment to be graded satisfactory. Remember, the assignment is asking you to think about why other people might think differently from you. For instance, you say:

    “We like to be comfortable, and there’s no shame in being comfortable with the way that you live. But the fact that we inherently seek comfort and predictability many times breeds stagnation, and from stagnation comes obstinance and unwillingness to change.”

    You need more here. Try to imagine why someone might believe differently from you. What sort of life might someone lead to make them value certainty, tradition, and stability over the kind of intellectual uneasiness you describe. In your telling, they’re just kind of closed-minded and stagnant — but the assignment was asking you really to try to get inside the mindset of someone whose values and beliefs are different from your own.

    Please review the assignment prompt. To receive a grade of S, this post must be revised to meet the requirements of the assignment. You have until September 24 to complete the revisions, but I strongly suggest submitting them ahead of time in case a second round of revisions are necessary. After you’ve edited the post, inform me in-class and I’ll mark it for review.

  2. Matt,

    You’re getting closer, but remember what I said before: “What sort of life might someone lead to make them value certainty, tradition, and stability.” You really need to think through — that is, really try to imagine — what life experiences might lead someone to think that the sort of doubt you describe is a bad idea. For an example of this assignment completed, check out John-Mark’s here:

    Keep at it! Good luck!


  3. Matt,

    Very good. This still doesn’t really answer the assignment, though. You say “It doesn’t matter from what walk of life a person come from. All lifestyles strive towards the same basic goals.” This is actually a way for you to argue around having to imagine another person’s life in detail — the thing is, you make a good case. I see why you’re saying what you’re saying, and you’d be betraying your point to do the assignment exactly as written. It isn’t about one life experience here or there: it’s about everyone.

    Fwiw, I actually don’t believe it, though. I believe you must have had friends or family or teacher who like to argue and consider both sides and who, formally or informally, taught you to do so. I don’t believe it was as spontaneous as you make it sound.

    Anyway, that’s beside the point. Well done. Grade S.


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