October 11, 2006
The Challenges of Our Present States of Mind
I've just finished four columns on the wisdom of Socrates as found in Plato's Republic. This conversation that took place 2500 years ago couldn't be more relevant to today's most serious crises in our modern states of mind. The central issue is belief and the enormous power of belief to motivate people to do just about every conceivable thing you might imagine. Once those beliefs are implanted in the minds of young people, it can be very difficult to alter and change their casts of mind as adults.
Fortunately, most people have a relatively passive relationship with their beliefs, i.e., they give credence to the beliefs but they are not out front with behaviors in radical support of what they profess to believe. Still, however, they will give at least passive support to the general cultural, ideological, religious context in which they live and it is much easier to get them out into the streets in protest when they perceive or are led to believe that their beliefs are somehow being threatened or demeaned.
This, of course, explains in part the enigma of our present day terrorist threat, which emanates from the religious fanaticism of certain Islamic factions operating in our world today. We are stunned by their willingness to give up their lives by the thousands in pursuit of their cause. We are incredulous that so many would apparently believe that their deity wants their deaths and the deaths of so many other people and that to die in the cause of that deity brings them to a paradise of cosmic Disneyland proportions.
That is because we underestimate precisely the power of beliefs both in the large majorities of Islamic adherents and more literally and intensely in the minds of a small, but growing number of radical activists. For those of you old enough to recall, just remember the last days of World War II and the appearance of the Kamikaze attacks on our ships at sea. This was a real challenge and had it occurred earlier in the war might have made a significant difference in the outcome.
Now we have spoken about the possible negative outcomes of belief. But, of course, there are positive outcomes as well. We see this all around us if we are willing to be observant. People with strong beliefs overcoming great odds, at great personal cost even unto death. What about those firefighters in the twin towers? They did not seek suicide or death, but they willing to put themselves in serious harms way with the greater likelihood that death might be the result.
People overcome the great disadvantages of personal upbringing, of serious disability and illness. They refuse to give up or to let the obstacles that life places before all of us keep them from making the maximum effort to overcome and to thrive. They do this for themselves and for others.
There is no question but that this kind of positive perspective coming from caring and loving beliefs about the self and the world is the real antidote to the powerful and severely negatively inclined beliefs that threaten us at this juncture in history. Let me know what you think.
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a licensed counselor, life and marital coach with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. Check out his putting minds in motion workshops by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.