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“Lies We Tell Ourselves”

Owen Explores the one great lie which all lies depend unpon.

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“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

John has mad hair, a bushy beard, and is wearing a hat befitting Vladimir Lenin, and John, like Lenin, likes to ask the big questions about life.

I have known John for over 25 years. My sister discovered him when she ran a roadside flower stall. He is an artist, photographer, and filmmaker and created an independent film school, which is where I got to know him well. A good teacher and someone always available for a chat, John encouraged us students, to jump into the deep end of filmmaking right from the get-go. When I moved to the mountains around my city, I was fortunate to discover that John lived five minutes away. It made for a growing friendship. Thanks to the beguiling hands of six degrees of separation, we recognised that we knew many of the same people—one of those people being the uncle of one of my closest and oldest friends. So, you could say regardless of how we met; we were destined to know each other.

It had been many months since we had seen each other, which was common in our friendship. And given the last two years, that has been usual for far too many. So we’d agreed to meet at a café close to John’s current home. As I had sat down at the coffee table, John was never one to waste time with small talk, a quality I love, sort out my thoughts on a question that had been troubling him.

John wanted to know my thoughts on why people cannot see that the path they are taking is errant despite there being evidence to, at the very least, question that path. Why will they shut themselves off to this evidence or ideas and willingly and blindly keep going down that path despite it causing destruction? He was especially concerned when he could witness people in powerful positions taking these actions and their potential for significant ramifications on countries, peoples, and cultures.

There are obvious conclusions of corporate greed and vested interests, and those who seek power will seize opportunities to exploit situations to advance their cause. However, how do we explain why people who believe they are doing the right thing and willingly blind themselves to things and events that challenge their accepted assessment and command of the situation? A most dangerous person indeed.

“I do not believe you, Mr Shannon” –

“It is better for your conscience that you do not, Mr Burry.”

Wolf in Shadow – David Gemmel

Of course, it gets even more convoluted when we combine the above. There are those who believe they are doing the right thing whilst operating within the soup of corporate greed and vested interests and those who seek power. It would be difficult to know what to do and not be infected by the tribal mind. And as the legendary New South Wales state Premier of the 1920s and ’30s, Jack Lang would quip – “In the race of life, always back self-interest; at least you know it’s trying.”

But given all of the above, what else could be going on? Is there a way we, too, can see the flaws in our own lives and perhaps equip ourselves with ideas that may help us navigate the sometimes-complex situations we find ourselves in? And like a stone cast in the water, send ripples across the world and the people we love.

“Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse.” – African Proverb

In her excellent book SQ – Spiritual Intelligence the Ultimate Intelligence, Danah Zohar outlines the idea of three basic types of intelligence. First, there is the well-known and often tested IQ. (Remember those crazy tests at school). EQ Intelligence popularised by Daniel Goldman in his book Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence. The latter is intelligence that is collectively low in modern society.

In simplistic terms, IQ is our intellectual or rational intelligence used to solve every day logical or strategic problems. EQ is important as it allows us to understand our own and others’ feelings. It enables us to respond with empathy and understand ourselves and those we live and work with. With these two intelligences, we work within the boundaries of a given situation, allowing the situation to guide us. The higher our emotional intelligence, the easier it is to navigate the world of fellow humans and our combined weirdness. Emotional intelligence is vital because the real world runs on feelings – ask any stockbroker. We all know people who seem incredibly bright but lack many social skills and find it challenging to navigate life.

The greater these two intelligences, the better we can perform in the known world. However, we often forget that “the map is not the territory”, often confusing models of reality and its pseudo certainties with reality itself. We operate within the “known and accepted” worldview. These intelligence functions very well within our foundational box. They feel a secure way of understanding the world, and when we are in a state of fear and inherent rigidity, we find ourselves drawn to them and will often defend them at all costs.

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree, and he turns away. Show him facts or figures, and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic, and he fails to see your point.

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defences with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.

But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge not only unshaken, but even more, convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervour about convincing and converting other people to his view.”

Leon Festinger, When Prophecy Fails: A Social & Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World

To live outside the known is a very frightening thing indeed, especially when our required SQ intelligence, our third fundamental intelligence, is weak and underdeveloped. Yet it is the most critical intelligence to have in life, for as commentators often repeat, “history doesn’t repeat it rhymes”, hence never quite the same. So, when we find ourselves in a world where we need new ways of understanding and wisdom to deal with its differing complexity, we must fight the tendency to define it by familiar courses and old maps of reality.

Spiritual Intelligence, rather than being guided by the situation, asks – “do I want to be in this situation in the first place?” Perhaps I would rather change the situation and create a better one?” This approach works within the very boundaries of the condition, allowing us to guide the situation. In effect, working and modifying the boundaries or seeing and adapting to living outside those boundaries if required. Plus, having a willingness to redraw our “maps of reality” with awareness of a more practical, deeper, more profound, and perhaps more “truthful” way of living with that moment.

Spiritual intelligence is not religious in nature. We can be non-religious and have high SQ; in fact, many vociferously religious people have very low SQ. We have only to come against the rigidity of some institutions and believers as a testament to that fact. Yet if we live long enough to experience personal trauma, we see that highly spiritually intelligent people, regardless of their religious or non-religious outlook, have a great capacity to support us in changing our lives. They help us prosper with more meaningful lives in a world that rhymes and frequently not very well.

“The dreamers, those who misread the actual state of affairs and act upon their emotions, are often the source of the greatest mistakes in history—the wars that are not thought out, the disasters that are not foreseen.” – Robert Greene

The “map IS the territory” is the foundational lie that all other lies we tell ourselves are based. It is the one great lie that we seem to want to hang onto the most for whatever reason.

We develop and create our internal maps, our ways of navigating life as children from our primary caregivers and the world culture in which we are born. We establish these beliefs and values and learn the appropriate way to behave, all built within the existing maps we inherit through our DNA and Epigenetic interplay. We are discovering that some forms of thinking are acceptable and others to be avoided. But we forget or perhaps never get to realise that they are just part of a map. A map is there to guide us in life and, like all maps, is just a representation of reality, but is flawed and often incomplete. And like all maps, they contain their own lies and misinformation.

Some lies we tell ourselves are learned lies, cultural lies, and family lies, inherited and deep, so hard to recognise and easiest to avoid. But notably, they are built within the one great lie on the map being, the territory. Yet it is this map that we go to in times of crisis and opportunity, and its very construction will determine how we respond, and in both, whether we see them coming and either prepare to avoid them or take advantage. And if we have weak spiritual intelligence, we will only seek the answers that our map allows us to see and navigate.

Remember this next time your satellite navigator leads you up the garden path, and in anger, you feel lost and at sea. Use it as a reminder of that other great map that lies within ourselves; whilst it is often helpful, it can easily lead us astray when we move into areas of its limitations and unknown territories. So let us not lie to ourselves that this map is the territory.

This “map is the territory” is the lie that all therapies at their heart seek to bring to light – to create greater awareness and comprehension of who we are and our real place in the world. But unfortunately, it is also our most significant source of conflict as we struggle with each other’s great lie. Our maps may be similar, but in regions that differ so significantly, we, in our fears and under-developed spiritual intelligence, will try to force them on each other. And depending on what our maps enable us to make of our lives, it may put us in positions of power where it is all too easy to force our version of the great lie on those less powerful.

“The greatest source of our suffering is the lies we tell ourselves.” – Elvin Semrad

Iain McGilchrist, in his excellent book “The Master & His Emissary – The Divided Brain and The Making of The Western World.” redefines the difference between the left and right brain hemispheres.

He argues that the left and right hemispheres have differing insights, values, and priorities, and both have different takes on the world. The right is the master, with the left having the task of making sense and initiating action from that sense-making – our grasping side. The right sees itself connected to the world, and the left stands aloof from it; This affects our understanding of all life. Whilst we need both hemispheres, we in the west have allowed the left to become so dominant that we are in danger of forgetting everything that makes us human. We are now left with a situation where the servant has grabbed more power than is appropriate, resulting in a society where a rigid and bureaucratic obsession with structure, narrow self-interest and mechanistic views of the world holds sway. This situation is an enormous cost to our happiness. We have let our universal spiritual intelligence slip away.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” ― Bob Samples

Leonardo da Vinci’s genius has been attributed to his whole brain function. Both the right and left hemispheres worked in complete union with neither dominant. So, perhaps that can be attributed in part to his unique early life. As an illegitimate child, he was not afforded the normal upbringing, yet, being the child of a successful notary, he had the resources available to explore the world without the limitations that a more “normal” childhood may have imposed. Furthermore, as a child, he spent an enormous amount of time in nature – trying to understand it from the inside out, which is perhaps why his paintings and drawings seem to vibrate with the energy of life.

With the right brain seeing itself connected to the world and the left standing aloof from it, this whole-brain function allowed Da Vinci greater “spiritual intelligence”. To not only see the known world but also reinterpret it, redefine its boundaries, the map if you will, and take his mind so far into the future that we still marvel at his ideas today.

The less a thing is foreseen, the more…. fright does it cause” – Xenophon.

So how do we develop great spiritual intelligence to minimise the impact of the lies we tell ourselves. To help us continuously build an internal map that will serve us better without the limitations of that belief that this map is indeed the world in which we live.

Perhaps we can start with our philosophy.

At the fall of apartheid, the new South African government under Nelson Mandela went to the African philosophy of Ubuntu to help heal the massive wounds that the country was suffering. With the help of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the truth and reconciliation commissions were created around these ideas. Ubuntu has at its core one basic idea – “I am because you are.” That we are interdependent and that my humanity is based on your humanity. We can extend its idea’s further – I exist because the world exists, and without each other, nothing exists. We are mutual dependent and interdependent. For example, thirty per cent of the world’s food crops rely on bees to pollinate – no bees, no food. A narrow, self-interested, mechanistic view of the world fails to see this fundamental idea that all life depends.

Second, let us actively seek out ways to strengthen our spiritual intelligence. Like any “muscle”, with exercise and time, it will grow strong. Place ourselves in environs that challenge our thinking. Talk and work with people different from our usual world. This action, by its nature, will at times be confronting. Read something you don’t usually read, and for some of us, reading in and of itself may be the new action. Hang out with different cultures – be an adventurer, an explorer of old if you will – to become a child again with the joy of discovery. To seek out new worlds where you have not gone before. With this action, we must be prepared to lower our prejudices and fears and recognise that our map is ill-equipped and may not have all the answers and will need to be redrawn, perhaps many times.

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do”. – Gandhi

Third, take up activities that actively encourage whole-brain function and quieten the mind. A quieter mind allows for more of the actual world to be seen, and we become less reliant on our current map of understanding determining our actions. Activities such as meditation and there are a lot of variations to choose from. Physical activities such as yoga asanas and tai chi work with opening and strengthening the body to support the significant development of emotional, mental, and spiritual awareness and growth. I know a dear friend who is far more balance after a day in the surf than at any other time. And it’s okay to be scared of it… go as far and fast, or slowly, as you are able.

Put very simply, let us take on any activity that increases our awareness about the world we live in, our connectedness to it and each other. This simple change in approach will aid in the growth of our spiritual intelligence and reduce the consequences of the lies we tell ourselves. For without awareness that it is just an errant map we use to navigate life and not reality, we will become paralysed in our life options and sow the seeds of our destruction and unhappiness. We can become so much more, and the world will thank you – sometimes.

“The more we understand about archaeology, the harder it becomes to acquiesce to the notion of progress.” Lee Child

Till Next Time – Something to Think About & Share.

Resources & Further Reading.

The Psychology of Totalitarianism – Mattias Desmet

101 Lies Men Tell Women : And Why Women Believe Them – Dr. Dory Hollander 

What we can learn from the African philosophy of Ubuntu – (YouTube)

SQ – Spiritual Intelligence: The Ultimate Intelligence – Danah Zohar

The Daily Laws – Robert Greene

“The Master & His Emissary – The Divided Brain and The Making of The Western World.” – Dr Iain McGilchrist.

The Master and His Emissary: Conversation with Dr Iain McGilchrist – (YouTube)

The New Science of Super Awareness – Bill Harris – (Get the e-book for free here.)

When Prophecy Fails: A Social & Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World – Leon Festinger


Written By Owen Thomas


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