“A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.”
-M. Scott Peck.
Are You Committed To The Truth?
The following vignette may not seem directly relevant at first, but stick with me and I can demonstrate precisely why it is and how it plays a vital role in cognitive restructuring…
*Note: a presupposition is a belief that’s assumed to be true prior to any argument – also presuppositions cannot truly be disproven because they are not necessarily based on evidence but are gathered prior to the evidence*
I recall vividly a conversation I had with a peer in which he was insistent that he could prove, with certainty mind you, that God exists. Not necessarily any specific entity, but just a supernatural being which exists outside of time and space. However, I was not so convinced.
I remember asking, “Prove to me God exists without presupposing God’s existence. it’s not possible. The thrust of your argument would be passionless unless you already believe the conclusion to be true. I’m not saying you MUST start your argument with that presupposition stated explicitly, but it’s certainly implicit.
Sure, it’s circular, but that’s the nature of passion and the limitations of logic.” He considered my words blasphemy. And not because I was dismissive of the rational nature of God, which I wasn’t, but because I “disparaged logic.”
Cognitive Restructuring Point 1: Proof Is A Belief – That’s It!
Let me explain my thoughts and feel free to disagree because that appears to be the general consensus. My argument is that when we use the word “proof” we tend to mean “proof per our presuppositions.” Even if one could prove God’s existence via causality, it would no more prove God’s existence to the unbeliever anymore than the unbelievers’ arguments would disprove God’s existence to a believer.
Because of necessity, one must argue what they presuppose when declaring “proofs.” If their system does not permit the opposing presupposition they will unquestionably invalidate the argument. Namely, the weight of a syllogism is directly proportional to the beliefs of the individual deconstructing it.
Similar to the attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole, unless the shape of their heart changes to adequately hold the presupposition, so to speak, the argument will not prove convincing to them.
Cognitive Restructuring Point 2: Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes
Mistakes assist in thought process optimization and rational consistency – so don’t dodge them!
I recently read a book by psychologist Carol Tavris titled “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me).” In it, she tells a story about a research psychologist that was able to join the ranks of a doomsday cult in order to study the phenomena which occur therein.
What he discovered appears relevant to our discussion, at least in terms of understanding the noetic undercurrent of our aversion to truth. She writes,
“Fifty years ago, the American psychologist Leon Festinger infiltrated a group who believed the world would end on December 21. How would they feel on December 22? Would they reject the prophet who had fed them such lies? Quite the opposite. And it was those who had invested most in their belief, selling their houses and giving away their money, who now became the most fervent disciples. Festinger explained this all-too-human need to justify past actions as driven by something he termed “cognitive dissonance” – the state of tension that occurs whenever we hold two “cognitions” (ideas, beliefs, opinions) that contradict each other.”
Oddly enough, even when the verdict is in and one’s argument is proven insufficient, cognitive dissonance will ensure the occurrence of a rationalization of sorts to create internal consonance, even if this is at the expense of rationality and logic.
So, technically I agree that one could argue evidentially (using empirical evidence) through and through, yet the evidence they choose is always biased and in accord with their presuppositions (what they already believe to be true). It’s inescapable.
Therefore, I won’t deny that there is a philosophical methodology for arriving at conclusions, but it is ALWAYS a posture of the heart which molds and defines the methodology.
Why does this matter?
Cognitive Restructuring Point 3: Beware! We Are Skilled At The Art Of Self-Deception.
What I’m saying is that we are often committed to our truth but that does not mean we are committed to the truth. It’s undeniable that we see what we want to see, that we do not like admitting we are wrong, and that we are very resistant in accepting reality.
Therefore, being committed to the truth not only entails the gathering of evidence but challenging the preexisting assumptions one holds regarding the evidence. Why? Because of our innate aversion to reality. M. Scott Peck notes in The Road Less Traveled,
“Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline not to avoid pain and effort. To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to the truth, not partially. That is to say, we must always hold truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more crucial, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant, and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs. What does this life of total dedication to the truth mean? It means, above all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination and honesty with oneself.”
Cognitive Restructuring Point 4: Talk Is Cheap – It’s Always Easier Said Than Done.
The problem quickly surfaces, how in the hell does one know which interpretation of reality is the right one? Let me share an example of the complexity of this dilemma.
My youngest child was frequently sick, not anything dangerous but the variety that is unbearable to the neonate and overwhelmingly fatiguing for caretakers. I recall being somewhat reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway, looking relatively tattered with an unkempt beard and a fixed look of desperation.
One night, seemingly out of nowhere the poor tyke’s temperature shot up to 103 degrees and was steadily climbing. It would appear another night in the hospital was in order. Not surprisingly, once we pulled up to the ER the lobby looked like a junior high school nurse’s office – an endless amount of sick kids all waiting for the one person on duty. Needless to say, in the waiting room, we were doomed to sit. Chaos was without and chaos was within.
Mind you we were running incredibly low on sleep, truth is, claiming we were “running on fumes” would be a reach – we were on empty. So there we sat. Semi-conscious. Helpless. Bewildered. Aloof. And then the usual occurred – which happened so frequently it was second nature at this point – the baby vomited all over my face, doused my beard with her milk suds, and drenched herself in the process.
My wife was quick to her feet and immediately began removing her pants. Well, the babies pants. You get what I’m saying. She started to undress the baby so the trip to the restroom wouldn’t leave a chunky trail behind. An honorable attempt at consideration. Yet, mid-de-robing, another patron of the hospital spoke up, “Hey hon, there is a bathroom right around the corner.”
Ergo, to the bathroom, we sauntered. Immediately, two interpretations were present. My wife was enraged that this vindictive woman could be so caddy. As if the woman said, “c’mon lady, show some class, don’t change your kid in the waiting room.”
I, on the other hand, was relieved to be in the bathroom, to wash out the recycled formula in my beard, and to splash some cold water in my face – I figured the lady was being a kind citizen trying to be helpful where applicable.
The moment the words rolled off her tongue was the very moment I completely forgot about it – had no effect on me. My wife, on the other hand, was tortured all night by it, wanting justice to be served on a cold dish in the emergency room lobby.
Interesting right? Here exists two interpretations, two different responses, and ultimately two totally different worlds. Which one was correct? We will never know! However, we are not without tools or ability.
Discernment is in the batting cage and is about to be called to the plate. Discernment is just the ability to judge well, therefore, we must bring this skill to our interpretations – and it’s a skill that is always in need of refining!
Cognitive Restructuring Point 5: Discerning Truth Is A Life-Long Process
Truth is usually defined as that which corresponds with reality. This is good and all in regards to propositional statements i.e. the chair has four legs, all bachelors are males, all Vulcans are logical, etc. But logical propositions notwithstanding, how does one ensure their emotional state corresponds with reality?
It is my view that we need to target utility when it comes to emotion, in terms of contentment and human flourishing not necessarily ignorance is bliss type happiness or mindless pleasure. Therefore it has to do with relevance and the ability to maximally contribute to one’s environment.
The Concept of Reframing (Discernments Strong Arm)
Charles and Linda Bloom capture precisely what I mean in their article Reframing: The Transformative Power of Suffer. They note, in a vein very similar to Peck’s that
Life is sometimes difficult. We don’t get what we want and we get a lot of what we don’t want. We can start to slip into a mindset of, “Life shouldn’t have to be this hard,” or “What’s wrong with me that I have so many challenges” or “My life is cursed.”
These kinds of thoughts may or may not be true. If we continue to play these same thoughts over and over in our mind, they become more believable. One of the skills to develop as mature, resilient individuals is that of reframing. To reframe is defined as “placing something in a new frame.” When we change our point of view on any given situation, the facts remain the same, but a deliberate shift is made in how we see it.
As we shift our thinking about our situation, there is a change in emotional tone and the meaning that we give to our life circumstances. We can choose to move our experience from a negative frame to a more hopeful one, filled with opportunities. This process allows us an expanded view of our reality.”
Reframing doesn’t demand the pain disappear or even dissipate. It instead requests one to squarely confront the discomfort, to walk through the valley of death, as it were, rather than set up shop there and get a P.O. box.
This article was ultimately a lead to my article Cognitive Reframing: 5 Steps To Mastery, where hopefully I was able to communicate precisely how to build the skill of discernment and leverage reframing as the hand courier to the truth. If I have yet to sell you on the necessity of cognitive restructuring, I fear I never will. Do yourself a favor – challenge yourself.
Timmy G (2019)