When I was a boy, I attended a grammar school that had a high population of Catholic children. One day, a protestant boy stated to a group of schoolmates, “There's no virgin birth.” The reaction was immediate and violent. He was set upon by several catholic boys who were not just displeased, but enraged.
So it is with deep-seated beliefs. It matters little which of the above boys happen to have been correct; the incident illustrates that it is human nature for us to maintain a core of beliefs that we don't wish to have trifled with. Significantly, we sometimes tend to defend our deeply-set beliefs even if they are of no particular importance to our lives. In such cases, our excessive resistance may be due more to the fact that we have received a jolt than that the belief itself was either important or sacred.
Reaction to Cuban Observations
For a recent issue of International Man, I provided an article entitled, “The American Berlin Wall“, which commented on the inaccuracy of the “accepted view” of Cuba (as maintained by the American media). The article described Cuba as an anachronism, a country of extreme positives and negatives, each the result of the 50-year Castro regime. The point of the article was not to defend the regime, nor to vilify it. It was to shine a light on the fact that the accepted view that most Americans have of Cuba is far from the reality. Of course, Americans can easily be forgiven their lack of understanding of what Cuba is really like, as, for 50 years, they have been kept by their own government from going there to find out for themselves.
International Man tends to generate an unusually high level of thoughtful, positive feedback from its readers, but a significant negative reaction to this article was anticipated from American readers as the accepted view of Cuba is so ingrained in Americans (even in those people who are in the habit of questioning information provided by their government.) IM received some very positive reactions, but others were as expected, such as this one:
“You should move to Cuba immediately Jeff, renounce your citizenship and vote for Obama you chattering nabob.”
Although this reaction is somewhat flawed (including the erroneous assumption that I am an American), it reflects a tendency that we all have at times: that of lashing out at commentary that upsets our equilibrium. I doubt very much if the subject of Cuba is of great importance to the respondent, yet reading such an article can seem like a slap in the face when, “Everybody knows Cuba is in a state of constant repression, and everybody is afraid all the time, and that settles it.”
Sacred Cows Die Hard
As we grow and become increasingly informed, we find we have to give up some sacred cows that we had been fond of, but interestingly, we often continue to hang on to our remaining sacred cows. Why? Well, for a start, there's great comfort in thinking that some information is sacrosanct. Trouble is, when we consider the degree to which the world is now changing, if we are to see our way clear, we are more in need of an open mind than ever before. We need to be prepared to question everything.
And that was exactly the reason for the article. Let's look at it a bit more closely, using the very same subject: Cuba.
On one of my first visits to Havana about twenty years ago, some small children approached a Canadian visitor that I was talking with. One child held out his hand and said, “Por favor, señor, su pluma.” The other children echoed, “Pluma, pluma.” The man's wife said something to the effect of, “That's so sad – they have so little food that they're begging in the street. I wish we had something for them.”
Certainly, the woman could not be criticised for not understanding Spanish, for not knowing that the children were asking for the pens the man had in his shirt pocket, not for food. (In those days pens were amongst the many shortages of basic items in Cuba.) What was significant, however, was that she failed to notice that the children were not starving at all. In fact they were quite healthy. (Cuban healthcare is of an unusually high standard.)
We have all witnessed similar situations. Whenever information is repeated many times, it is easy for us to assume that it is true. Then, when we are confronted with evidence that it may not be true, we may fail to absorb the new information. Instead, we unintentionally misread what is before us, in order to re-affirm the false information in our minds.
Certainly, if I were considering moving to a new country, Cuba would not be high on my list. However, if all the stories of Cubans being arrested for even looking cross-eyed at a policeman were actually true, no one in Cuba would dare go out on the street. Yet each one of these stories reinforces an “accepted truth” that tends to go unquestioned.
In times like the present, if we are to keep a step ahead of the tremendous amount of manufactured truth that is put forward, we must be in the habit of always questioning everything. This does not mean that we have to get to the bottom of every claim that meets our eyes and ears; it merely means that we do not simply swallow that information whole.
It is human nature to want to put questions to rest, to rid ourselves of uncertainty; however, in times of great change, it is prudent to accept a feeling of uncertainty when we are unsure, to be comfortable in keeping as many balls in the air as need be. To do so increases the likelihood that, as changes occur, we are able to adapt quickly. Over the next few years, this ability will be not only helpful, but in some cases essential, to our well-being.
[Note: While Cuba may not rank high as a place to move to in the near future, one place worthy of serious consideration is Uruguay. In our “Beginner's Guide” to the country, you'll learn all about the real “on the ground” conditions from a recent American expat. Join the International Man Network today and gain access to expertly-crafted reports that make it easier to diversify. Click here for all the details.]