Why Everyone is Usually Wrong About Almost Everything

Here’s the bottom line: the nuances of a subject usually contain the true essence of that something, but there are no shortcuts when it comes to experiencing the truth.

What do I mean? Well, here’s an example . . . .

One of my favorite books is Benjamin Huff’s The Tao of Pooh, a tiny page turner that contains boundless wisdom on how to heal from trauma, how to deal with difficult people, how to overcome adversity, to name but a few topics. I’ve come to trust and appreciate Benjamin; I listen to what he has to say.

In the book, he shares the story of The Vinegar Tasters, and old Chinese proverb about Confucius, Buddha, and Lao-tse. The story itself is not important for our purposes, but suffice it to say, Benjamin confidently proclaims the following about Buddhism:

“To Buddha . . . life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering. The world was seen as a setter of traps, a generator of illusions, a revolving wheel of pain for all creatures. . . . [T]he devout Buddhist often saw the way to Nirvana interrupted . . . by the bitter wind of everyday existence.”

“The Tao of Pooh,” by Benjamin Huff.

I’ve read this passage countless times, and I came to believe that Buddhism was inherently pessimistic, that it taught detachment and aloofness.

Little did I know.

Through a series of callings and coincidences, I found myself hungry to read original Buddhist texts, and after a few years of study, I can say with confidence that I understand a fair bit about the essence of Buddhism. Benjamin was wrong; Buddhism is not pessimistic, and it does not preach detachment or aloofness.

The prolific Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, wisely taught:

“Some say that suffering is only an illusion or that to live wisely we have to ‘transcend’ both suffering and joy. I say the opposite. The way to suffer well and be happy is to stay in touch with what is actually going on; in doing so, you will gain liberating insights into the true nature of suffering and of joy.”

“No Mud No Lotus,” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Benjamin is not a Buddhist, yet he spoke authoritatively about Buddhism. He was wrong, and yet I believed him. In fact, I think most people are usually wrong about everything. It was not until I took the time and energy to discover Buddhism for myself that I uncovered the nuances of the tradition and discerned the true nature of those powerful teachings.

I had to listen to Buddhists, I had to listen without judgment, without fear, with an open heart, and in so doing, I was able to see the truth.

Again, the nuances of a subject usually contain the true essence of that something, but there are no shortcuts when it comes to experiencing the truth. That is why we’re usually wrong about most things, because we haven’t looked deeply, without judgment, at those we do not understand.

Life is hectic and we are all too busy. We listen to those we trust and we may come to believe what they tell us. But I am here to remind you that there are no shortcuts when it comes to experiencing the truth, and some subjects are simply too important to be ignored.

What do we really know about Islam? What does it mean to believe in reincarnation? Why did your neighbor vote for that candidate? Does Neil deGrasse Tyson have something to teach the faithful?

And what of us, Catholics? I’ve encountered many many people who harbor misguided and negative perceptions of Catholics. They say that Catholics are judgmental, that we worship Mary, that we hate people who disagree with us. Are they right? Is that who we are?

If we want others to take the time to discover the nuances of our tradition–to see our light, our goodness–then we must make the time to appreciate their traditions too. As Catholics, I believe it is okay to learn about, and even learn from, other cultures, religions, and perspectives, while still following the Good News.

“Traditional religious practices are important: they allow us to share with others the communal experience of adoration and prayer. But we must never forget that spiritual experience is above all a practical experience of love. And with love, there are no rules.”

“By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept,” by Paulo Coelho

If we have love in our hearts, then we will have the strength to listen–without judgment–to others, and in so doing, create stronger bonds of fellowship and camaraderie in our communities.

We can work for peace right now, and we can start to learn something about someone different from us today.

And in that way, maybe we can stop being wrong about almost everything.

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