I used to think I had ideas. Or thoughts. Beliefs… I used to think I had all of these things. I thought they were mine; and when something is yours, you’ll do anything to protect it.
So, I had some ideas floating around in my head: opinions, beliefs, and thoughts about the world. I walked around with an attachment to these ideas. After all, they were in my head, and I had thought a lot about them. When something or someone would challenge these ideas, my first reaction would be to explain or defend my ideas. I had invested so much time and thought into these ideas, so it would be silly to just let them go and not put up a fight, right? Right?
Wrong. So wrong. Super-duper wrong. Detaching myself from “my” ideas is precisely what I should have been doing. First of all, they weren’t really my ideas. They were mostly an amalgamation of other people’s ideas. This was the first important thing I came to understand regarding ideas. But this, too, isn’t exactly right, because those people don’t have ideas either.
To quote Carl Jung: “People don’t have ideas, ideas have people.” When I think about how an idea surfaces, it’s not something I consciously create. It’s something that emerges within my consciousness. It simply rises through me like a fine mist. It’s when my mind is at rest that the most profound ideas appear to me. And then they’re gone. I can think about the idea, but I can’t find it anywhere within me. I can’t locate it, I can’t grasp it, and I can’t have it. It’s not mine.
When I started to separate myself from ideas, I began to lose any vested interest in proving them right. They aren’t something I feel as if I need to defend anymore since I have no attachment to them. I’m still going to make my case and defend what I believe to be true, but I’m perfectly willing to accept I could be wrong. In fact, the most likely scenario is that I’m wrong.
Starting from this position allows me to genuinely listen to people. I can lend my ear and say “tell me what you know, because I’m probably wrong, and I’d like to find the truth.” If I start from the position of “let me tell you why I’m right,” it becomes difficult to truly listen to the other person, because my focus isn’t on what they’re saying, but what I’m saying.
I’ve seen the latter position rear its ugly head far too many times. The more invested somebody becomes in an idea, the worse it gets. This is what happens when somebody becomes ideologically possessed. They become so invested in an idea or a certain line of thinking, and they’ve staked so much on it, to let it go would be an admission of a lot of wasted time. Nobody wants to admit they’re wrong, but people really don’t want to admit they’ve been wrong for most of their lives.
When somebody is possessed by an idea or an ideology, they’ll do anything to defend it. Because of this, the person becomes almost indistinguishable from the ideology. Nothing they say is an original thought, merely a projection of the ideology. The conversation is impossible. They’ll attack you and your character, and do whatever it takes to stay away from discussing the points at hand. They’re almost always angry, and the ideology is their outlet.
It’s difficult to talk to these people, especially online, but there is hope. If you demonstrate you’re at peace and are content and respectful, it can be enough to prevent somebody from becoming possessed by an idea. When somebody is yelling at you or insulting you and calling you names, and you peacefully listen and respond calmly and rationally, an outsider who maintains any shred of individuality will take notice. Even if they disagree with the points your making, it will be impossible to disregard your behavior.