free thinker

There was something else, very different, that I was going to write about today. But yesterday morning, I got up early… at three in the morning, to watch the debate between Romney and Obama. It wasn’t broadcast here on Israeli TV. In fact, It wasn’t even the first thing in the news, on the morning news show. But thanks to the internet, I was able to watch it in real time, as it was taking place, and listen to the pundits discuss what happened immediately after. Little by little, the whole world is connecting, and what was once as far away as another planet, is now part of the global village. I am constantly amazed. But we take such things for granted. We’ve all had such experiences. What I would like to discuss today, is something else. I would like to share with you some thoughts on free thinking… on independent thought.

I love eucalyptus trees and you see them all over when you’re on the road here

You know, for generations, the free thinker has been typified as a person who does not accept the dictates of the church. But that is the way with language. So often, it accommodates the thinking and the communication of the majority of the population, and often it reflects common prejudices. Sometimes, common expressions are adopted as oxymorons, until someone rebels. They puts a list together and then it is spread around on the internet… and we all get a good laugh. It should be noted, in the same context, that in ancient Athens, 90% of the population had no voice in governing the society, and though this society gave us that beautiful ideal of democracy, slavery too, was completely accepted by that society.

people of all ages and backgrounds take a break to have a good time

As a species, we are a herd animal. We like to be in the press of humanity. We long for harmony and security, and being within the group. And we know instinctively, that the best place to be is somewhere in the middle. The leaders are usually teased and scraped and tested, and the weak are abused… but in the middle it is safe. However, we can identify with the leaders, and within one of the many sub units of society, if we feel the need, we can be the head of a family, or a group of some sort… In any case, there is always a price for sticking out. However, there are many paradoxes attached to the human condition. And though there is a great advantage in our going along with conventions, keeping up with the Jonses, and staying within the framework supported by our neighbors, there are also some sublime pleasures in the freedom of thought.

the passionflower that heralds that equally wonderful fruit

From a completely logical point of view, a free thinker is a non-conformist. But not conforming to the fashion of the day does not mean that we have to rebel or argue with everything universally accepted, or everything that is in fashion. Or whatever our friends choose to do with their lives. Personal responsibility is not for everybody. It means more work. It means examining what we believe, and checking out ideas and concepts that are accepted by everyone around us, at times. But it is also a key to freedom. And a sense of harmony and balance that can lead to true bliss. Of course, there is also bliss when in the stadium, cheering on your favorite hockey or football team with thousands of others, knowing that everyone around you is chanting and hoping for the same thing, and feeling a sense of commitment and identification with all those wearing the shirt of right color, and hating the umpire when he decides against the play of your man out there on the field. There is joy, together with your mates, when your representatives have won the game. And there is consolation, and a sweet sadness in going over the plays, the mistakes, the unfairness of the judges, and of life itself when the game has been lost.

we call them ‘belladona’ here

Life is very different, when one has chosen the path of freedom. There is much less certainty, and less security. There are mistakes all the time, and it isn’t always someone else’s fault… not the judge, nor the system. You can’t always count on what worked yesterday. You can’t count on someone because he’s on your side. Often, you can’t even count on logic. Because, there is logic that works well within one system, but doesn’t in another. Often you find yourself completely alone, or unloved, or even responsible for the unhappiness of others. Your friends are not always with you, ‘through thick or thin’. You know that things in life are relative. So, no matter how much you value certain principles, you occasionally find yourself in such a situation where one value cancels the absolute nature of another. For instance, you believe in truth. You can’t think of any justification for lying. But then, one find day, you find yourself in a situation where telling the truth will cause the death of another human being. Let’s make it easier; the death of a friend. Well, it’s not so simple. You believe in truth and life. One of these has to take precedence and the other has to defer… for the moment. And such quandaries don’t happen just once in a blue moon.

in her kitchen, Rivka keeps her guests well fed

Such an awareness, could easily lead you down the path to hell, where everything is relative… and on each occasion you just do what ‘seems right’ at the time. But, if you are a person of principles, you have to take just a few (and one wants to be very careful about amassing such principles), and adopt these as principles that are more valuable than your very own life. For these few principles, you would be willing to face martyrdom.

the greatest pleasure of the holiday is the company of dear friends

Politics is a lot like football, as I described it above. For most people, you have your team, and you want them to win. Sometimes, even if your guy is a little crooked or inept at the job he’s doing. When it comes to politics, the free thinker is often outside the game. He has to choose the ‘lesser of the two evils’ or to abstain. He might find it very tempting to vote against one of the candidates, rather than for a candidate. But sometimes, there is no choice. If he feels that both candidate are immoral or evil, or inept clowns [and I am in no way referring to the candidates for the presidency of the US], he cannot vote for either one. Being a free thinker is very often difficult… but it has its rewards.


38 responses to “free thinker

  1. orlando gustilo

    Well said, Shimonz. In a fast-food society we don’t take the time to chew much less cook our own food. We rely on what others cook and chew for us. To take the time for the important things is a value most don’t value anymore.

    • What you say is quite true, Orlando. It seems that as human society becomes more dense, and people move from the farms to the urban scene, and use more and more utensils that have been mass produced, there is an influence on our thinking processes as well. I often wonder to what extent human freedoms will be curtailed as society becomes more and more integrated. It seems to be getting harder for the individual to go his own private way, as time goes by. Thank you very much for coming by.

  2. Wow Shimon! You have such an ability to cause me to think deeply and frazzle my brain. 😉 Once again, this will take a second or third reading to be able to reply to you how it affected me. Belladona is usually referring to Morning Glorys here and they don’t look like one of ours. Your lady has a beautiful kitchen. And someday, tell me about the panorama photo at the top. Jerusalem?

    • Ah Bob, I have the feeling we would spend many and evening into the late hours, if we only lived closer to one another. I have heard of ‘morning glory’ but am not really familiar with that. The picture was taken not too far from my home… you can see the very edge of the city, where it meets the desert. On the western side, the city is met by lush forests. I often look out at this meeting of city and open spaces, and wonder about the way we humans cling to each other…

  3. YOu have a gift with the written word Shimon. Excellent post.

  4. Such an interesting reflection. I share with you the realisation that life is not always clear, that some choices are between something bad and something worse, that there is fun in being together with like-minded people. But like you, I also think that it is necessary to check one’s assumptions, to take a long cool look at other people’s opinions and principles, and to decide the place where we wish to be. Most people who are secular think that to believe in God is intolerably narrowing, and constricts us. But I find the opposite – that it frees me from social assumptions, and allows me the space to consider things carefully. Looking at something in the light of the Almighty’s truth and love can give us liberty.

    • I agree with you, Gill. There are a lot of preconceptions, on both sides of the religious argument. Many of the believers have their doubts and have to struggle with deep questions in relation to their faith. And on the other side, there are many atheists and agnostics who invest much effort in moral questions. Coming to terms with the ‘Almighty’s truth’ is almost too much to bear at times. I am always reminded of Moses’ request to see god face to face, and the reply he received… ‘you cannot see me and live’. I think it’s a difficult subject to live with, this awareness of our own limitations…

  5. An interesting post Shimon. To try and conform can cause us great harm when to be true to ourselves would mean the opposite. I know this from personal experience. It seems easy to conform, as you say, it makes you part of the group. When one doesn’t like soccor but all your mates do, then a trip to a football match, going along, cheering for the team, well, it’s no big deal.
    For some things in life though to go against your beliefs, to deny who you are, to conform, well in this only great sadness lies. In society where conformity is everything and the judgement of those falling even slightly outside what the majority, in their ‘wisdon’ know to be right, is so harsh, we so wrongly condemn so many.

    • Yes, Chillbrook. It is a very difficult dilemma. The pendulum swings one way, and then the other, as the generations progress. Sometimes there is more sympathy for the individual, and at other times, the society as a whole is considered more important than those individuals that make it up. I often see the society as a whole, like the whole of our body. And to take a very extreme case, when some cells start reproducing on their own, and creating a culture that doesn’t owe allegiance to the ‘whole body’ their freedom can mean the death of the body if they are what we call a cancer. On the opposite end of the scale, an individual who lives by ‘old fashioned’ values when the society as a whole has reached the stage of decadence, will be run over and squashed by the social forces who no longer respect his values. When we encounter that old saying, ‘ignorance is bliss’ we don’t always realize the terrible cruelty that is accepted by wisdom.

  6. This is an excellently illlustrated and powerful message that is very timely in view of the coming election. Yes, we need to think it thru for ourselves and not accept everything we have heard or been told as truth. I hate to think that our only option is to vote for the lesser of two evils.

    • Thank you very much, Josie. I think that an election often brings out some of the negative traits in the human psyche. We make our choices, and then we have a difficult time with the fact that our neighbor might have reached the opposite conclusion. And so often we suppress our doubts and misgivings, and find it easier not to examine all the ramifications of some of the choices involved. Sometimes, forcing ourselves to examine the possibilities all the way, involves a lot of pain. I understand your distaste for choosing the lesser of two evils, but it seems to me that we are often confronted with such a situation.

  7. I enjoyed this Shimon, it has given me plenty to think about.
    I’m not up there with the great interlectuals but I do believe in coming to my own decisions about what I consider to be right or wrong despite what society considers to be acceptable. I think it’s the only way to live, to follow your own conscience and act accordingly.
    You do put your thoughts across well!xxxxx

    • Thank you, Dina. It is a very difficult subject. I am sure that in your work with animals, you have on occasion forced your will on an animal that you identified with to a great extent… thinking that you understood certain conditions that it was unaware of. Unfortunately, the more we learn about life, the more we come to accept certain compromises. I think the democratic society of the western world has tried to guarantee the individual dignity to the greatest extent, in the history of man. But still, we continue to encounter examples of injustice and a lack of fairness. It can be very trying to the hood hearted idealist.

  8. Thank you, Shimon…as the character Monk would say, being a free-thinker “is a blessing and a curse,” but I’ll take it for the blessing and accept the downside which, as you write, often means losing friends, or rejecting shallow diversions and struggling long and hard with where the light is leading. But what would be the purpose of life if not to act from one’s essence and in accordance with one’s beliefs, which, as the wise ones have always told us, should be focused upon and infused with Love?

    • I am unfamiliar with this character that you refer to as ‘Monk’, though I have had a few friends who were monks, in this lifetime. My tendency too, is to listen to my essence, and try to act upon my beliefs, but I think you’re right… it is a blessing and a curse… These choices we have in life, I believe, are human’s greatest nobility, and dignity. Yet sometimes we have to make concessions to find peace, to get along with our neighbors and loved ones. It is always such a delicate balance. Maybe it’s a little easier when our intention is infused with love, as you so beautifully said. Thank you, Catherine.

  9. i think a “non-conformist” and a “contrarian” are often confused. to me, a non-conformist is someone who does what seems right or better for them at each given moment. sometimes their choices might coincide with everyone else, and sometimes they don’t coincide. what’s necessary is that the non-conformist adheres to what he thinks is right for that moment, regardless of everyone else.

    in america, i often deal with contrarians who simply look at everyone else and do the opposite. that’s what mitt romney is doing now. he watches what obama does and then preaches for the contrary. he doesn’t have an original or cogent thought of his own. if obama says “go,” then romney says “stop.” and vice versa. it’s rather disheartening for two reasons: 1. that romney doesn’t realize how silly he presents himself. and 2. that romney does understand how many americans are too ignorant to realize what he’s doing and will possibly vote for him.

    • Rich … here’s a twist. To me, a contrarian is one who naturally acts or thinks different that others. Most people see a right angle of 90 degrees, but contrarians represent the 270 degree angle. Sometimes I like to think of contrarians as the natural devil’s advocate.

      • i think of contrarian as intentional. not sure why i think that, but i do. maybe because of the monty python argument skit.

        • LOL .. nothing like Monty Python rationale. I was on a a state professional organization’s board, and a fellow member called me one of the best devil’s advocates they’ve encountered. I look confused and said, no … devil’s advocate are intentionally providing the counterpoint, while I doing it as myself.

    • I would definitely agree with you on the description of the non-conformist, Rich. Though I have had the opportunity of knowing more than one contrarian, and have learned that sometimes there is a hidden wisdom in such behavior too. What bothered me about your comment, was that I felt you were trying to demonize Romney. And when you said “that Romney doesn’t realize how silly he presents himself”, I felt that you were so carried away by politics, that you yourself didn’t realize how you would sound to someone who was on the outside, looking at this competition. I would suggest that you offer a bit more respect to someone who has quite a few accomplishments in his back pocket, and who has the support of almost half of your countrymen.

      • yesterday, romney announced that he’s not going to do anything to change laws or policy regarding abortion if he is president. he said this because he knows he needs to gain votes from the moderates and undecided voters. back in august, while speaking to a strictly republican crowd, he stated that he was going to end abortion. this is a great example of what i meant.

        if you believe the world is round, he will agree with you to get your vote. if he steps across the street to a meeting of the flat-earth society, he will tell them he agrees that the world is flat, just to get their vote. i can’t respect that.

        as for his business accomplishments, i can’t respect that either. i have a sister who was an attorney for one of the companies that romney’s company – bain capital – acquired. the company had a strong 401k retirement fund. just in case you’re not aware of how a 401k works (and i apologize if you’re fully aware, but i’d rather tell you extra than not enough) each employee contributes to the retirement fund. for every dollar the employee adds, the company adds an equal amount. the money is invested in order to grow and pay back to the employees upon retirement. here’s her account of what happened:

        bain bought the company. they separated the 401k fund from the company’s assets. for the sake of numbers, let’s pretend bain bought the company for $10 million and there was $1 million in the 401k. so bain buys the company for $10 million. they separated the 401k and put $1 million in their pockets. they then turned around and put the company up for sale for $11 million instead of $10 million. the reason they were able to increase the selling price was because there was no longer a 401k, which means the new owners would not have to contribute any money to the fund. the result is that when the employees wanted to know how their retirement fund was doing, the answer was “what retirement fund?” the workers were baffled and felt robbed, which they were. the new owners said, “hey, we bought a company without a 401k. you’ll have to go talk to the previous owners about that. we don’t know anything.”

        so bain buys a company for $10 million, pockets a $1 million fund, then sells it for $11 million, thus making an extra $1 million, and they left a building full of workers without any of the money they had contributed into their own retirement fund for about 25 years. i can’t respect that either.

        • That has happened here in the UK and I think it is evil or if you want a milder term,unethical.It may be legal but it’s wicked.To me Mitt Romney is a very mediocre candidate..are there no better people in the Republican Party,,,,Sarah Palin was also somewhat of a poor person for top level politics

          • so far, mitt romney is running for president on the basis of “obama is bad. everything he does is wrong. when i’m president, i will do better.” but he’s not specifying what he will do. he’s a shadow of a candidate.

            • He comes over to me as rather lacking in intelligence but he must be cunning to carry out those takeovers.No doubt he has that he is wealthy on the backs of workers done out of pensions.Where are the great people of America’s past?Not to mention ours here in the UK…
              they are taking from the poor yet again.

              • the rich make the laws. the rich know how to manage around the laws. the rules for business are different than the rules for public office. there is more he can get away with in private business and thus build up the appearance of success through the possession of wealth.

  10. Nice post! You’ve done a wonderful job at exploring the complexity–and sometimes ambiguity of free thinking. I agree it can be a lonely, very insecure path. Sometimes I think people are thrust on it almost without knowing, then have to make the choice to continue on as a free thinker or conform.

    • I agree with you, Jordan. Most of us find ourselves at odds with the conventions that surround us, at a rather early age. Sometimes, we have no choice but to be different. And as we develop we make choices… occasionally a critical choice, and sometimes many different little choices. And they lead us to a certain position. Usually, there is that possibility of accepting conventions, or the wisdom of our parents, or teachers, or friends… and not having to constantly fight the current. Sometimes we’ve already committed ourselves to a certain path, when we have to stop, and re-examine our position. Making our own choices, and standing for our own position is usually difficult… sometimes painful. It has its advantages though.

  11. Excellent post Shimon with many mental twists and turns. Here’s a few of my random thoughts.

    I appreciate your sports analogy with politics. People are rooting as if politics is a sporting event, thus forgetting that the elected are asked to lead and serve all!

    You mentioned the recent presidential debate. Interestingly, the debate analysis depends on the side of the writer. For instance, a game is played in sports. The review of the game from the winning side is a different perspective than the report from the losing side … and both are different the report provided by the neutral bystander. Meanwhile, 3 views but only one game.

    I also appreciate your perspective as the responsibility that goes with being a free thinker. Many partisans aren’t free thinkers, thus blindly accept what their side says … no matter if it is correct or not! Yet, the free thinker must be willing to learn what is actually going on.

    Also, see my reply to Rich. Meanwhile, I feel I’m starting to babble.

    • I agree with you, Frank, regarding the review of a sporting game, or a political debate. There are many different views… different versions of reality. Essentially, what an educated person would want most, would be to view both sides with the greatest objectivity. But often, our emotions run away with our mind. But unlike sports, in the political arena, there are often crucial differences between the objectives of the different candidates, and their views of the world. The president is better known. We can judge him on his performance in the last few years. And at the same time, this is an opportunity to get to know the new candidate better, though he might be promising things he won’t keep. If one of the candidates has been misrepresented by the media, or by his political opponents, this is a great opportunity for him to expose himself as he truly is. And if one of the opponents tries to avoid an in depth discussion of an issue, he will be judged on that too. No fear of babbling between us, Frank. I am always interested in what you have to say.

  12. Wonderful post dear Shimon, and beautiful photographs too. I haven’t seen before this flower’s picture, Thank you, have a nice week, love, nia

    • Glad you liked the pictures, Nia, and thank you for your good wishes. I have just come home from a long holiday, and am renewing my relationship with Nechama, and it is very nice. Loved looking at some of your cat pictures too.

  13. I just wish to comment on the photos – the photo of eucalypts is just like looking at the Australian bush that I love… and I’ve never seen the passionflower before ! Eaten the fruit but never seen it growing.

    • I have to tell you, Annie, that long ago, I fell in love with the eucalyptus. I did a series once, just on the leaves, and the way the light falls on them, and comes through them at times. I like their smell, and am very attracted to the bark of the tree. And when I got to know them better, I discovered that their main source was from Australia, though there are some that developed on other continents. They are very common here in Israel, and I remember their branches, serving as roofs for the booths on the holiday of Sukkoth when I was very young. Thank you for your comment.

  14. I suppose no-one is completely free but some people are better at looking at issues in a wider focus or from a different standpoint or angle.Being an artist/photographer might be a great help as you are already familiar with how connections and patterns look different from different places.
    Some people are thrust by accident of birth into an unusual position.Maybe some of them can make an advantage of that.
    I love the passionflower and wish I could see Rivka who looks so happy in her lovely kitchen.

    • You are so right, Kathryn. No one is completely free, and I agree with you too, about artists having a greater interest in freedom of thought. But we also have certain human tendencies that limit our freedom, even when we want it badly… aside from the difficulty of relativism. Glad you enjoyed the view of the passionflower, and another picture of Rivka. I did enjoy watching her work in her own beautiful home. Thank you very much for your comment.

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