Part 1: Can you, even temporarily, put aside what you think is true?
Writers of fiction, especially writers of fantasy and science fiction, rely on readers’ suspension of disbelief, which is a temporary setting aside of critical thinking and logic while examining something they believe to be untrue. It is being able to view the story outside the lens of accepted reality that enables us to get deeply involved in novel or movie. Stephen King would be still be a janitor or, at best, a teacher without this very important aspect of human ability.
My husband, Joe Gemignani, liked to play with this concept in his photo artistry. He’d insert a lighted lamp in an old, abandoned building or place an object in an absurd place, just to play with people’s minds. He experimented with pushing the boundaries of how much people would accept as possible in his art before saying, “That’s too weird.” Most of the time, however, the response was, “Great capture.” That really made him laugh.
Although we’re all amenable to stretching our belief systems for art and literature, most of us remain adamantly locked into what is possible and true in real life. Yet, what is a belief but a thought that you keep thinking? And where do those thoughts come from?
Most of our deeply held beliefs originate in our socialization. Generally speaking, we believe and accept as true the ideas and ways we saw demonstrated and taught by our families, teachers, religious leaders, and communities. Cultural indoctrination is how we are raised.
But what if you had been born in Japan? or Belize? or anywhere else in the world with a different cultural perspective? Many of the ideas you hold in firm belief would be radically different, yet those would be the ones you’d consider true and valid.
Historically, conflict is what we’ve seen emerge as a result of these differences. One culture obliterating another because their belief systems were at odds. And, the prevailing true and proper belief became the one held by the stronger and better armed society.
Sometimes, the intent was more humanistic, if misguided. Christian missionaries spread almost as fast as the plague and with more dire and long-lasting consequences. Converting the native and indigenous cultures to Christian and Western beliefs changed the trajectory of humankind.
And what has been the long-term result of this “civilization” of the species? The missionaries would surely say they saved the souls of the converts. But did they throw the baby out with the bathwater?
With the eradication of indigenous and native ways of life, humankind lost its respect for Gaia, Mother Earth, as the sustaining source of life. The practice of observing nature as a guiding force was discredited. The resource-renewal concept of taking only what you need and giving back in kind was forgotten.
The long-term effects of losing these earth-focused belief systems can be witnessed in current world conditions: Climate change, ravaged supplies of natural resources, constant war, social and racial injustice, and the pervasive Western cultural belief that financial gain supersedes everything else—including the well-being of individuals, the species, and the planet.
Maybe it’s time to apply the concept of suspension of disbelief to nonfictional realms, i.e., real-life behavior. As a culture, we’re behaving as if societal progress, tech innovation, and economic expansion is why we’re here, and the loss of quality of human life is merely “collateral damage” in deference to financial growth.
So let’s suspend the prevailing disbelief that we’re hurting our planet and ourselves with this behavior. What story could we write instead?
I daresay at this point, the very popular genre of dystopian fiction best fits what the world and our views would look like if we continue on the current path.
But we are creative human beings, so let’s do our best to turn things upside down and create a New World Order in a reverse Stephen King style—transmuting horror to desirable.
Let’s suspend all belief temporarily and begin with a clean, empty slate, similar to who you were when you took your first breath. Before you learned judgments of right and wrong or good and bad. Let’s just think in terms of what we want for ourselves and others. What would that look like?
So that’s your homework assignment for the week :) You don’t have turn in a written paper (unless you wish to share in the comments or email me privately). But please think about it. Everyone can spout off ten things they don’t want or like in the world. Can you also name ten things you do want and would like?
I’ll return next week with my vision of what a better, rightside-up world would look like. You probably have a good idea of which way I’m leaning, but truly even I’m not sure of exactly how I’ll craft it.
It may seem that one week is not enough time to save the world, but let’s see what we can come up with. It seems to me that the minds in charge haven’t been doing much, if any, thinking lately—at least not in support of greatest and highest good of all.
Until next time…my best, Shelley