Walls in the mind
They cripple and they bind
Keep you deaf
Keep me blind
Keep us both confined
Those words come from a piece I wrote years ago. Today I heard them again in my head. Once again I was frustrated by all kinds of walls in the mind.
I watch a documentary on suicide bombers
and their allies. A smiling woman talks sweetly of feeling privileged that she was able to help someone fulfill his mission in life, to blow himself up along with as many Israelis as possible. A voice from off-camera asks, "Didn't children die that day? After all, it was a family restaurant." The woman continues smiling her peaceful smile, "Yes, I think so. Three children." The off-camera voice, quiet but much less peaceful, says, "It was nine. Nine children." The woman nods a friendly absentminded nod. "Ah, yes, nine." It clearly does not matter at all to her. What mental blocks does she have, so powerful that they block our any possibility of compassion for the children?
My partner is impressed by Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, on the imminent danger of global warming. He wants everyone to watch it. I am glad Al Gore's film was able to reach him - I was impressed by it too. I also ask: why did other sources not reach him? Why did all the information that has been coming at him, year after year, not reach him? More generally, why have so many people not taken in the information and reacted to it?
I cared about global warming twenty years ago. I've cared about so many environmental issues. Some other people also cared. Al Gore was able to understand, over two decades ago, the information coming at him. But many did not, could not or would not hear, see, connect the dots. Again, mental blocks that hold reality out.
More care now. Slowly the information does get past the mental blocks, psychological barriers, inner walls. But even now, according to An Inconvenient Truth, 50% of non-scientists think we need to get more information before we decide that global warming is actually happening or something serious. 100% of scientists, looking at the data, agree global warming is a major threat. In other words, 50% of people - due to whatever reason - are not registering loud and clear information.
Walls in the mind. Mental blocks harder than cement blocks - which would have crumbled under the weight of all the information thrown at them. Those very sturdy inner walls are all around.
The majority of my students - I teach at a college - come into my classes with the rigid belief that all opinions are equal. How I dare I say they are wrong, I have been asked. How can I not, I answer - when all the evidence is that they are wrong. But it's an opinion, an area where right and wrong does not exist, many hold.
But the opinion that blacks, Jews, women, gays and lesbians are inferior - those are all opinions.
I have had very nice students - in favor of all kind of rights - hold that they agree with me, but it's just a matter of opinion. In other words, no better than any other opinion. They smile - just as smugly as the woman who aided the suicide bomber. They are not about to let any evidence get through. Mental blocks, once again.
Some students are horrified, outraged, shocked, that I can flat out say they are wrong. But they are saying I am wrong, I counter. No they're not, absolutely definitely not, some insist. And they waffle words, to try to show that I am wrong to believe they are wrong, but that they are not saying I am wrong. More mental blocks, walls in the mind. Thick, rigid.
For more of the arguments they give, and more of my counter-arguments, see The Opinion that All Opinions Are Equal.
I come back to
Walls in the mind
They cripple and they bind
Keep you deaf
Keep me blind
Keep us both confined
I remember that, with "keep me blind", I found it hard to decide - should it be, "keep me blind" or "keep you blind". I decided not to make the other totally out of touch with reality, and myself totally able to perceive.
But how am I blind, I ask myself today? In part, through my own walls in the mind - much harder for me to perceive than those in other people. That's the worst thing about those inner walls, inner barriers, mental blocks - they are invisible from the inside. They set limits, like the nose filters what we can smell, and our eyes filter what we can see.
It's only when we change our filters, our mental barriers, that we change what we perceive.
So I will start with a wall of mine.
A wall of mine - I have found it so hard to invest in myself, my projects. A huge barrier against that, even when I was giving hugely to back another's dream - something I have done more than once. I am trying my best now to take that barrier down, to put into my project - into this site, into my creative projects - as much as into other things. Hard to believe my projects deserve more than my labor, especially. Much of my life, I've given masses of time. Not easy to invest money. And even harder to see the steps to having the project make money.
But these are becoming somewhat clearer. For now, the emphasis is on my major drive - just to get the projects out into the world.
In case you think I'm letting myself off too lightly, here's at least part of the problem. The inner walls are invisible to those within them - or mainly invisible, anyway. Sometimes one may sort of see them.
Inner walls, mental blocks, can be clear and massive - when one feels trapped behind an inner wall. I've felt that - when I felt like reaching out to people, but could not. The word that came to mind - shy. Another word - afraid.
But the walls I'm writing about aren't like that. They're walls one can't see, if caught inside - except maybe momentarily.
So the best person to ask about my walls is someone else.
Walls in the mind
Keep you deaf
Keep me blind ...
There is a way I am often blind when I come across the walls in another's mind.
I am usually unable to see the wall. I can see the impact of the wall - people will rigidly hold religious beliefs that make no sense, hold opinions unbacked by evidence, deny evidence right before their eyes. I can see that clearly. But I cannot see the wall itself. It is invisible to me.
I come to frustration. So frustrating to see what others cannot.
A famous example is Cassandra, who was cursed by the gods to know the Trojan horse was a trick of the Greeks, but to be unable to get others to hear her, believe her. I can well imagine her overwhelming agony, her desperation and pain - to know, to warn, and to go unheard.
I think of someone my father told me about in childhood. No gods involved there, just human inner walls, mental blocks. In hospitals, about a century ago in Vienna, women were dying en masse, when they gave birth in a hospital. Semmelweis, a doctor, figured out that it was because the doctors handled corpses, gangrene, any kind of infection - and then touched women giving birth. Within a few days, the women were dead due to a raging infection. One year, according to my father, no woman who gave birth in a hospital in Vienna, survived. Women who gave birth at home, on the other hand, usually had no complications.
Semmelweis tried to reach the other doctors. All they had to do was disinfect their hands - nasty caustic stuff, but it did prevent death. The other doctors were deaf to his words, outraged even. They washed their hands.
What more could anyone want?
Semmelweis went mad. It was too much for him.
Some people do not go mad, but still cannot reach through to others.
I think of Copernicus and Galileo, who each separately figured out that the earth went around the sun, and not the other way around. It took them years to make sense of the overwhelming evidence they gathered (each observed and charted the movements of planets, etc. ), since they, like those around them, started by believing the earth was the center of the universe. But slowly their mental blocks gave way. The evidence was conclusive.
Those around them did not take in the evidence, when it was presented. The walls in their minds were too massive, rigid, high, strong.
Maybe it was that those around them had not for years added up data that slowly chipped at those walls, until they dissolved or crumbled or melted away. For neither Galileo or Copernicus just had glanced at a bit of evidence, and presto, found enlightenment. But they were each willing to continue, keep gathering evidence.
Those around them were not. They reacted against those with the unwanted information. And neither Galileo nor Copernicus went mad.
I can tell what it does, to have lower inner walls, fewer mental blocks, than most people - even if one can't reach others.
One can discover more. Darwin, taking in the evidence of his findings in the Galapagos Islands, figured out stuff about evolution.
On the other end of the scale, there are many Americans, even today, who want evolution to be taught as a theory, to be given equal weight in school with the theory of creation - as if there were equal weight for both theories.
So lower than average inner walls lead to higher than average perception.
And higher, denser mental barriers lead to lower than average perception.
Inner walls - prejudices. Against various races, against women, against people with different religious beliefs, against gays, lesbians, bisexuals. Against information.
I come to some words from Virginia Satir, best known as a family therapist, a warm person who was able to see and reach so many people. One brief piece of hers is on The Five Freedoms:
The freedom to see what is there, instead of what could or should be.
The freedom to feel what one feels, instead of what one should or ought.
The freedom to ask for what one wants, instead of always waiting for permission.
Those are the ones I remember at the moment. Uppermost right now is the one that came to mind first - the freedom to see what is there.
A powerful freedom. And not one that can be enforced by law. It's a freedom that comes from within.
The freedom to see does relate to the society one is in. Some societies do their best to create walls against perceiving certain people (women, people with differing religious beliefs, etc.) as fully human. Other societies do their best to stop people from realizing that all opinions are not equal. Still others do not encourage people to take in evidence, ask questions.
A technical term comes to mind, much more technical than mental block or mental barrier or inner wall: the narcissistic shell, a shell that uses - among other things - anger, rage, hatred to keep out information. So when, in the south of the United States, the laws were changed and the first black students were enrolled in previously all-white schools, enraged and outraged whites lined the street leading to the school on the first day of classes.
The narcissistic shell. During World War Two, the Canadian Prime Minister's policy on allowing Jews into Canada was One Is Too Many. He could not see the humanity of the people he was keeping out.
Many people who would not use violence still have an invisible electrical fence that gives off high voltage bolts when unwanted information comes their way - so the information does not get in.
I am still left with questions:
How does one encourage as many people as possible to be like Al Gore - to take in evidence, to connect the dots, to see what is happening?
And how does one help pull down the walls in the mind of those where they are strong?
Walls in the mind, mental blocks. One can chip away at them - so that people do change, almost as with evolution - not quickly, but one tiny alteration at a time, until the person becomes quite different in terms of inner walls.
And sometimes one gets an ultra powerful tool - so that Sojourner Truth, a black woman who spent much of her life as a slave, was such a powerful speaker in the nineteenth century, that she was able to reach many listeners with her message of the equality of women. Popular arguments: women are too delicate and weak to have equality; they need to be lifted over mud puddles and be given the best place everywhere; plus god is male. Sojourner's words (from memory):
"No one ever gave me any best place, or lifted me over any mud puddles. And ain't I a woman? (She bared her right arm, showing its tremendous muscular power.) I have planted and plowed with the best of men, I have brought corn to harvest, and no man could head me, and ain't I a woman? I have eaten as much as a man - when I could get it. I have born the whip as much, and borne thirteen children, and seen most of them sold off into slavery, and when I cried with my mother's grief, no one bus Jesus heard me, and ain't I a woman?
"And they say women shouldn't have rights because god isn't a woman. (Lifting her voice to rolling thunder, she pointed at the minister who had raised that point.) But where did your Jesus come from? From god and a woman. Man had nothing to do with him."
At the end of her speech, the crowd - against her and her views before she spoke - applauded. Her words had tremendous power - the power of conviction, plus the power of evidence.
At present Al Gore, with his Powerpoint presentation on global warming, is reaching many - again with the power of conviction and massive evidence.
Where to end this?
I'll start my ending with the link to the word piece on walls in the mind. It's actually, I realize, on Chains in the Mind.
It captures my sense of intense frustration when up against The Wall.
Chains or walls, by the way, does it matter? Is there a difference? Yes. When one is chained, one can usually feel the chains, recognize they are there. One may prefer them, like a caged bird may prefer the shelter of its cage, even when the door is open.
The walls I've spoken of are different from chains - invisible to those who have them, like permanent distorting glasses. I come to a childhood memory, from The Wizard of Oz. In Emerald City, everyone must wear green glasses, so everything looks green even if it isn't, and the inhabitants are convinced everything is green.
Once again, where to end this?
I would like to find an adequate tool to get students to realize the incredible overwhelming importance of taking in evidence, and of backing opinions with evidence.
Perhaps the next time I am faced with students who hold that all opinions are equal, and who insist., for example, we must not judge any culture and the opinions of that culture - I should, like Sojourner Truth, lift my voice to rolling thunder. And maybe I should get together as much evidence as Al Gore did. I tried to, actually, in my piece against the opinion that all opinions are equal.
And in my most recent encounter with the "all opinions are equal" wall, fewer than usual students ended up holding that all opinions are equal. So maybe I'm getting better at breaking through mental blocks.
And maybe, just one tiny bit at a time, I am making a dent in the walls in my own mind, and the walls inside the minds of others. After all, Al Gore has been making his Powerpoint presentation for years, and now his film has been seem by millions - getting somewhere, and still quite some distance to go. But not losing hope - because like with the wall that long separated East from West Berlin, lots of walls can come tumbling down.
The walls do come down. I suppose that's the best place to end.
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now am found
But now I see.
The words - or so I've been told - of someone who was a slave trader, and came to recognize that was wrong, and became a minister preaching against slavery.
January 28, 2006
copyright © Elsa Schieder 2007, 2009 - all rights reserved
For a change poem
the highest walls, our inner walls,
another idea piece on mental blocks,
The Rage of the Righteous,
still another piece on mental blocks,
this time on a popular Western
a whole list of opinions that so not make sense,
that could not exist without
Examples of MENTAL BLOCKS.
And Responses to these Psychological Barriers, Emotional Barriers.
Inner Wall, Mental Wall: What Can We Do?
on Mental Blocks, Mental Barriers, Inner Walls
Mental blocks - those are some of the first things that I could not figure out. Except that I didn't know that the obstacle was mental blocks. The equality of women - why had that not been obvious to everyone? And healthy food - why did people not quickly shift to healthy food, as soon as the facts were in.
It took me ages to start to understand the mechanisms of mental blocks.
I know there's still a lot for me of learn.
July 27, 2009
copyright © Elsa Schieder 2009, 2011
publishing house - FlufferDuff Impressions 2009, 2011
Walls in the Mind.
They Cripple and They Bind,
Keep Us All Confined.
The Idea Emporium explores:
walls against seeing, mental blocks,
emotional barriers, psychological barriers.
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