Confronting assumptions

This comes a little late in the season, but my resolution for 2017 is to maintain a healthy level of skepticism. I know it’s more popular to make promises about weight loss, fitness, or ticking off items on one’s bucket list. Have more fun, be less stressed and all that jazz. Only I think that skepticism can accomplish all of these.

Or at least resolve them.

For the past few years, we’ve questioned common wisdom regarding nutrition. Most recently, we threw everything we thought we knew out the window to eat potatoes for two weeks. Before taking this leap, we read what there was to read. We thought carefully about whether any of that information made sense, and lowered our expectations to nonexistent. It was a dare. A localised scientific inquiry.

The result was that we overturned every assumption we had about how we eat, what we like. As a lifetime sugar-fiend, I would never have thought that I’d lose my taste for it completely. Long-time favourites have been abandoned. Now, we’re those weirdos who like nothing more than the flavour of fresh vegetables. Even fruit verges on excessively sweet. It’s so bizarre as to be unbelievable – I wouldn’t believe it either if I weren’t in the midst of it.

Once reaching adulthood, most of us are probably pretty certain about our likes and dislikes. We might also think that we’re set in our ways, and that it would take a long, sustained force of will to change those ways. Perhaps all that’s needed is a modicum of doubt. Maybe a short, intense application of discipline – say, two weeks?

That said, there’s no reason to assume that what has worked so miraculously for us will work for others. Friends of ours recently gave it a whirl and lasted all of three days. Then again, they were going straight from highly-processed foods and frequent drinking to nothing but potatoes. What seemed relatively simple and straightforward to us must have appeared an insurmountable peak to them. Most of us would give up in the face of such hopelessness.

Then again, it could be that skepticism is the answer. Facing a sheer cliff that seems impossible to climb, the answer might be to go around. Or to turn back. Or to camp at the foot of the cliff. The assumption is that climbing is necessary at all when there are multiple solutions that are just as viable.

We don’t like skepticism. Doubt seems rude, and it makes people uncomfortable. So we don’t even begin to question what there is to be questioned, let alone give voice to the questions we have. The other day, the Fella opined that parents who drive giant gas-guzzling vehicles must not love their children. After all, why else would they deliberately use more polluting fossil fuels when they know their children, their grandchildren, will be the ones to suffer?

I replied that they probably hadn’t thought that far. These are people who also have their groceries bagged in plastic, who purchase water in bottles when what comes from the tap is perfectly drinkable, and who make few – if any – considerations to reduce their overall consumption. It doesn’t make them bad people, just people. The majority, parents or not, infrequently question the status quo. The household needed a car, so they bought one they considered practical in all ways but one. If someone pointed out their error, that the vehicle ferrying their kids to school might also snuff out any chance those kids have of long, happy lives, chances are good they’d be heartbroken.

Critical thought oughtn’t be optional, but we don’t even teach it in schools, let alone at home. We set ourselves up to want great lists of things – houses, cars, money, fame – but we rarely ask how these things will serve us. What are they for? Will something else do just as well? Can a person replace a thing? Or a ritual? Do we need any of these things at all? If we banished desire for a thing beyond our reach, would we not also let go of the unhappiness we feel at not having it?

Confronting assumptions may not be fun, and it will rarely make one popular, but maybe it’s a resolution worth keeping.

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