Why is it so hard for us to go against the grain? Because we are programmed as social beings who rely on feeling accepted by our peers to feel at ease with ourselves and others.
Why are most accepted opinions and views usually wrong? Because we tend to look at things superficially for the simplest explanations in order to avoid having to acknowledge and work with a wider context that takes into consideration the complexity that stems from the interdependent nature of phenomena.
Why does it still today take so incredibly long—typically many decades—for faulty accepted views to be updated? Because the moment we believe something, no matter how little evidence there is or how tenuous the explanation, that belief becomes a piece of ourselves that helps define our view of the world and of everything in it. That belief becomes an unquestionable part of both our worldview and of ourselves.
Why are we willing and actually prone to fighting, often viciously, to defend our beliefs? Because it is through the collection of our beliefs that we define ourselves, and therefore immediately feel personally attacked when any one of our beliefs is put into question, especially by someone else.
Why do we avoid asking ourselves questions about the world around us, about the statements we hear, about the explanations we are given? Because any kind of process of questioning is bound to bring into question some of our beliefs, and this is a painful process we do not want to engage in.
We humans—we homo sapiens—have been human for about 200 000 years. The fact that we have built the astonishing corpus of knowledge and the breathtaking technologies that we possess today is testament to the incredible power of enquiry of the human mind. But this should not be for one second taken to mean that we are, as a species, different in our most basic tendencies and needs than we were 200 000 years ago.
Fundamentally, our behaviour and thought processes are driven by the overarching need to feel accepted by our peers, independently of how clever we may become at justifying our positions and beliefs to ourselves and others. This is indeed very insidious, because the more clever and educated we become, the more convincing we can be, no matter how wrong we are.
The only remedy is to train ourselves—to force ourselves—to question into our own beliefs. Instead of finding ways to justify them to ourselves and others, to look for ways and reasons to put them into question, and through this process clarify them further.
When we hear a statement, to question into it. When we read an explanation, to question into it. To never settle for what seems to be obvious, but to always question into things.
We need to make this approach—this continuous questioning—our basic mindset. Questioning our own beliefs in exactly the same manner as we question any other belief, statement, explanation.
Questioning, questioning, questioning, and never settling down.