downloaded thinking / cultural conditioning

Posted on December 24, 2013


“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.

This is usually quoted as a command or an admonition telling us how to raise our children. But the context of this proverb shines a different light. The whole chapter is a list of statements of Imagereality, warnings of how life works.

For example, the next proverb says that the rich rule the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender. This is not telling us that the rich SHOULD rule over the poor or that the lender SHOULD become the master of the borrower. This is simply a statement of fact, the way of life, and a warning of how life works.

An ancient Jewish scientist, philosopher, and Rabbi, Ralbag, suggested an alternative, satirical interpretation of this proverb

“Train a child in the way of evil and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Another statement from the New Testament says, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

These are statements of the reality and power of cultural conditioning.

This conditioning is neither good nor bad. It is what is. It is how life works. As children we cannot reason out our own way, so we must be guided and taught the way that our elders believe is best for us. But when we become adults we must cast off childish things and learn to think on our own. Are we only grandchildren of a truth that was handed down to us, or are we children of truth that is forged with fire, struggle, and pain?

When nuggets of “truth” are handed to us, shall we test them to see if they are authentic, like gold refined in a fire that burns off the dross?

Conditioning is what culture does. It is a sort of unconscious brainwashing (positive or negative). Like the fish that, when asked “How is the water?”, answers “What water?” We too, when challenged about our conditioning naturally ask, “What conditioning”? Conditioning is anything that comes from an outside source; family, education, media, politics, and especially religion. Hand-me-down truth will always be suspect because of the nature of words and communication. Second hand is not direct truth. And any statement that comes from institutionalization and systematic interpretation like the above mentioned institutions are suspect simply by the fact that institutionalization and systematization are man-made constructs; created in man’s image. The truth can only be proven by discernment from within; baptized in Inner Light

In ordinary situations, these downloaded thoughts, beliefs, values, and ways of living are left unchallenged and become part of our knee-jerk reaction to anything that might contradict them. These “ways” of thinking and acting become very personal to us; defining who we are as well as making us think that we can define who the “other” is. And yet, as with childish thinking, they are simply accepted and left unquestioned. Why?

  • For fear of finding that what defines us is left wanting?

  • For fear that our assumptions are just that, assumptions?

  • For fear that our opinions are just that, opinions?

  • For fear that our values and beliefs that have been handed to us, are not authentic?

  • For fear that they are simply another man’s opinions and assumptions that we have swallowed? … thoughtlessly or conveniently downloaded?

What is very unfortunate is that the areas that we do this most are two of the most important to living a life of peace and justice, wielding a great breakdown in communication among fellow human beings. Those two realms are religion and politics. We childishly leave our assumptions unquestioned and bash those that differ. Peace requires us to grow up, open up, and mature by broadening our perspectives on life and of each other.

How do we discern? How can we tell what is real? Especially since we have made them part of our identity? Since letting go of them now becomes a matter of life and death of our conjured up identity,.. or our hand-me-down thinking.

Why so afraid to open up to the “other”? … to that which is “different”? … to that which might disagree? … to that which might challenge us to think different?

How do we discern and begin to see?

  • Begin by noticing knee-jerk responses. Do I notice my defendedness and ask why? What am I defending and why do I feel it cannot stand on its own strength, without my defense? Usually, the reactive answers come from a place of “thinking I know” rather from a place of inquiry … of seeking understanding.

  • Am I following an immature tendency to “be right” and “make wrong” those that disagree? Why do I find it so important to be right?

  • Is “being right” more important to me than seeking to understand another? Is intellectual domination more important than learning?

How do we begin to unravel the real from the downloaded?

  • Through listening to the “other”. Through seeking understanding from those that think totally different. This can only come through relationship, not just study. What are our associations? What voices do we expose our thinking to on a daily basis? Without this discipline of diversity, we cannot test what is true. We must see our assumptions and beliefs through the eyes of others first if they are to prove themselves to be true.

  • Truth that has been tested has at least two characteristics tied to it. 1. It comes after we have let go of all that we hold dear, all of that personal baggage with which we conjure up our own identity. 2. It emerges, without any coercion once nothing is in the way and nothing is holding it back, from a place of silence and presence.

Most of life is remembering what we already know. The noise and clamor of everyday life, the conditioning of media, politics, institutional thinking, religion, drown out the inner truth that seeks to emerge from a deeper place. A place that is below the surface, beneath the glitz and glamor of prestige and recognition. A place of peace and equality.

In light of this, how then shall we act and react?

The values and beliefs of others, whether tested or untested, whether immature or mature, are deeply dear and personal. Why would we dare to bash and trash other people in this way? A mature person seeks understanding by seeking common ground, not by spouting what he thinks he knows.

So why can’t we talk about religion and politics with those that think differently than we do? Why do we get so angry and want to change them, blame them, bash them into “being wrong” so that we can hang on to “being right”?

In this digital age, Facebook is a great microcosm through which to see the way people respond to the ideas of others. Do they resonate and affirm? Do they seek understanding when the ideas do not align with their own? Or do they stomp all over the Facebook page of the “other” because they have felt threatened by diverse thinking?

When will we learn to create peace through creating a spirit of dialogue and inquiry with our fellow human beings?

Final reminder: words cannot fully reflect what is real and what is true. Words are only signs and symbols of the real thing (see post: Words). So discernment of what is real and true is not quick and easy. Discernment requires a lifetime of going beyond words to a deeper place of silence; listening and waiting.

“Are you aware that you are conditioned? That is the first thing to ask yourself, not how to be free of your conditioning. You may never be free of it, and if you say, ‘I must be free of it’, you may fall into another trap of another form of conditioning. So are you aware that you are conditioned? Do you know that even when you look at a tree and say, ‘That is an oak tree’, or ‘that is a banyan tree’, the naming of the tree, which is botanical knowledge, has so conditioned your mind that the word comes between you and actually seeing the tree? To come in contact with the tree you have to put your hand on it and the word will not help you to touch it.”

– Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known,25

Also see, Discerning Truth