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how do we know what we know is true

Life of an Over-Thinker

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Part One: My Mind Palace

Sometimes I imagine myself in a huge, enormous library. No, library isn’t the right word. It suggests a single room or perhaps two. I imagine myself in a mansion that is nothing but libraries, winding pathways to different rooms.

Whenever I read something new or study something new, I am being let into a new room, able to absorb its contents and expand my knowledge of the world. Yet each new room is also attached to multiple other rooms and as soon as I move into one, I know there’s more other passageways than I can go down. I can never learn something new without at the same time realizing the limits of my knowledge, realizing that there is so much more to learn. Like a tongue drawn to the whole left by a lost tooth, my mind is ever searching the edges of what I know, realizing there’s more to learn.

Part of why I love teaching, writing and homeschooling is they give me excuses to keep learning, always exploring new things. It is part of why I find both teaching and writing a challenge. I never feel I know enough.
It dawned on me today that there might be others not like that. There might be others who don’t notice the gaps of their own knowledge. Others who can teach or write confident that they know “enough” and lacking curiosity about everything they don’t know.

Part Two: Today

Today I have the song “Muriel Lester” stuck in my head. It is from a Mennonite Central Committee’s music and story album “I Can Make Peace” which I had as a child. Muriel Lester was a pacifist during WWI. As I sing it, my eleven year old stops to question the pacifism of it. Is it really right to forgive people for bombing one’s house? Is that realistic to expect? Is it just? The questions are all relevant and challenging. The fact is, I don’t have any answers.

At different points in my life I would have argued for complete nonviolence and pacifism. At other parts, I argue for the need to understand and support those who do become violent in their fight against injustice. How can I, growing up white in Canada, judge those in Palestine who would take action against their oppressors? How can I judge those who fight back after a lifetime of suffering? I don’t judge the violence that has happened in the BLM protests, except when the violence is being directed towards the protestors and the black communities – towards the oppressed, not from the oppressed. I certainly don’t count the destruction of buildings during the protests as violence.

But saying I can understand violence at times leads to many questions. Is there then a quota of how much they have to suffer to justify fighting back? What about preemptive self-defense? Does it make a difference if one is defending oneself or others? Give how much people throw around the term oppression, how do people know if they are really oppressed and thus justified in fighting back? Violent and abusive men at times believe themselves to be the victims of oppression at the hands of their victims.

It is too early in the day for me to get lost down that rabbit-hole of thoughts but the lure is there. I think about how it could be a good time for me to read more about pacifist theories and history. I’d love to read more. I might be able to fit more reading on that in after I finish a few other topics I’m on right now.

Part Three: Children‘s Questions

My children are over-thinkers. It drives my husband nuts that we can’t watch a television show without someone wanting to explain the errors in it or analyze the implications. We like thinking about implications, though they make life harder.

We’ve been watching the television show Elementary. It is a modern Sherlock Holmes version that too often seems like it tries too hard. Someone gets themselves put in and out of a coma to do murders without being a suspect? Wouldn’t it be easier to just hire someone? Yet, once one gets beyond that there’s a comforting routine to the show. People struggle with questions of what it means to be friends and how much they should interfere in each other’s lives. The main characters break the laws regularly, and although the show acknowledges and chastises them for that, their actions continue. And so I find myself in conversations with my fifteen year old about that. Vigilantes are bad. Yet systems are often corrupt or too slow or likely to produce injustices. Legal doesn’t always mean things are right. There’s time for civil disobedience. Yet, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, is it not?

And how can we watch television shows where cops pull guns on people – particularly black people – even when they don’t abuse their power and shoot people? Does shows about police officers portray a false image of who they are and help people overlook their faults? Do shows where police officers break rules encourage people to think it is ok for police to break rules?

My kids question superhero stories. Is Superman unethical in having a life as Clark Kent when it interferes with his ability to save lives all the time? Should we have to do all we can and if not, how much is “enough”?

A younger child saw a music video from an old batman video, and asked “is batman the good guy or the bad guy?” I don’t know how to answer. He is the hero in the movie.

Part Four: Reorganizing

Sometimes my mind-palace needs reorganizing. My ideas change. Something new comes in and every other idea has to be refiled in light of the new information. It takes a few days of serious mental renovations and then finding things out of place for months afterwards. It used to scare me. It doesn’t now.

One of my kids had this happen to him a little while ago. He didn’t know what was going on. He just had to talk about thoughts that were bothering him. It felt a bit repetitive at times and I wondered if talking with him about it was just making things worse for him and then he said something about how he understands a philosophical idea as a mathematical equation and how the variables changed and suddenly I knew what was going on. He was renovating his understanding of the universe. One idea that provided a foundation for a lot of other ideas had collapsed, and he needed to check which other ideas needed modifying in light of that. I made space as much as I could for conversation about it and encouraged him to do some writing too and a few days later he told me everything is okay again.

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