“On the whole, our indiscriminate enjoyment of being right is matched by an almost equally indiscriminate feeling that we are right.” Kathryn Schulz, in Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you know how I enjoy pondering how our views are formed and how even the most deeply held ones might change.
Here I am again, dissecting some beliefs of my youth. As you shall read, I’ve clung to some and discarded a few, while others have mysteriously evolved.
All shaped me and influenced my life choices.
Beauty and Race
Growing up, I believed the prettiest girls had blue eyes and blond hair. Therefore, my blond-haired, blue-eyed sister Rosanna was decidedly the beauty in our family of seven kids, and, yes, I was jealous.
To my mind, your nose could be the size of a pear, your forehead misshapen, but still you would be lovely if you had light hair, eyes, and skin. Lighter meant better.
I don’t remember how I abandoned that notion. It happened gradually, in the same way other convictions of my youth morphed over time.
Womanhood and Sex
The general expectation when I was growing up was that women would be married by the time they were 30. I still have nightmares that I’m 40, never married and everyone thinks something’s wrong with me.
Other forcefully conveyed messages (at least as I registered them) were that a woman’s life would be incomplete and unfulfilling if she didn’t marry and have children and that she should give priority to her husband’s career over her own.
As to sex, I believed for longer than I care to admit that it involved only the act that leads to procreation. No one told me otherwise.
Finally, I used to think, firmly and up until I was nearly 18 years old, that I must marry as a virgin. That was God’s mandate. Sex before marriage was a grave sin, one that was ten thousand times worse if committed by a woman.
I no longer adhere to any of these beliefs, but they did determine important decisions I made. I married at 22 not because I was crazy in love with the man I married (which I was and still am), but because I wanted to live with him (and be intimate without hiding!) and it didn’t occur to me to defy society.
At 10, I thought a 53-year-old woman was ancient. At 20, I viewed her as kinda old. At 30, I considered her older. Today, I’d say she’s a wonderful age and that what matters most is how she thinks and acts.
To my mind, anyone who seeks to examine her beliefs and act courageously is in her prime, no matter the age.
Countries and Immigrants
As a child in Venezuela, I remember feeling that Caracas, the city of my birth, was an amazing place to live because if the US and the USSR went to war, neither country would care to drop a nuclear bomb on Venezuela.
It was nice to grow up without the worry of sudden annihilation and without having to practice nuclear attack drills, as schoolchildren did in other countries during the Cold War.
Along with the rest of my fellow Venezuelans, I’ve learned that no country would care to deploy troops or weapons to either hurt or help Venezuela.
Sadly, another view I held as a Venezuelan child was that Colombians were bad. As I understood it, they were responsible for much of the crime and poverty in Caracas. I periodically heard grownups comment that Colombians were thieves and not to be trusted. Politicians were letting them in and gifting them citizenship to get votes.
When crimes were reported in the paper, the mug shots showed the suspect’s name, age, and country of origin. “Tenía que ser Colombiano,” I recall adults remarking, meaning “It was obviously a Colombian.”
My prejudice is long gone and, in a twist of fate, the tables have turned and it is Venezuelans who currently experience prejudice and backlash in Colombia and elsewhere.
There’s a cautionary tale for you, and one more example of our unexamined tendency to fear and blame The Other.
Being a Parent
Before I had kids, whenever I saw a child who had a visible disability — in a wheelchair, blind, or with Down Syndrome, say — I always felt immense pity for their parents. I assumed having a disabled child was just plain sad.
I don’t think that anymore. For parents, it can be sad — and joyous, scary, amazing, challenging, beautiful, exhausting, sublime, dramatic, illuminating, chaotic, fulfilling, frustrating, and mind-expanding.
I know this because I have a disabled child, and it saddens me to admit that, had Diego been “normal,” my viewpoint wouldn’t have changed half as much.
I used to hold two moral beliefs that have shifted dramatically.
I thought of abortion at 6 weeks gestation as equivalent to killing a 6-year-old child. As a young teenager, I once heard a priest draw this parallel and I embraced it.
As to homosexuality, though I never viewed it as sinful, I did consider it a type of disease, not transmissible, but a mental illness nonetheless, caused by who knows what kind of trauma.
As a child and teenager, I didn’t think of money as all that important.
In my 20s and 30s, I believed it mattered far more than it does.
I find the money contradiction to be valid still. Money confuses me today even more than it did when I was 20!
Some days I desperately wish for more. Occasionally it feels almost irrelevant.
Where Am I Now?
I was no rebel!
For a long time, I believed without question and swallowed whole every notion inculcated by my social environment. I am the product of my upbringing and of the generally held societal notions of time and place.
It’s humbling, disconcerting and marvelous to reflect on how much we can change our minds.
It’s humbling to admit being wrong.
It’s disconcerting to realize how much ideas matter and how few are black or white.
It’s marvelous to know that an open mind is capable of expanding.
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