What we see and understand about life so often fails to correspond with what others see and understand. For those for whom unanimity of understanding is essential to emotional security and mental comfort, this universal fact is a source of much frustration and anxiety.

In the opening chapter of his classic book, “The Immense Journey,” the anthropologist and naturalist Loren Eiseley offers an insightful caveat concerning his view of reality, which he gives in the remainder of his book. He says: “On the world island we are all castaways, so that what is seen by one may often be dark, obscure (or hidden) to another.”

There are so many things that conspire to keep us from seeing things alike. Our views are conditioned by our experiences, our ignorance (or education), our prejudices and our deep (and often unconscious) personal needs.

How futile it is for us to expect others to share our perceptions of reality with uniform exactitude. We may learn from each other, but we will never be alike. Those who nurture serious expectations of uniformity are doomed to disappointment; and those who are obsessed by expectations of uniformity are the budding tyrants of our time who would extinguish the human mind, which is the primary light by which God has traditionally rescued us from darkness and ignorance, chaos, and fear.

We are never in greater danger of error than when we are absolutely certain that we are absolutely right. There are some of us who have made lifetime mistakes that we were too proud to admit, and swallowed the mistake instead. I am reminded of a story about an unsophisticated boy who went to a very sophisticated banquet at which they served coffee. The coffee turned out to be hotter than it appeared. When this young man took a big sip of his coffee, rather than burn his mouth, he spit it back into the cup. The whole company looked at him. He stammered for a minute, looked at everybody and said, “You know, there are people who would have fool enough to swallow that coffee.”

Most of the most destructive and inhumane times in human history have been those in which some person or group of persons have been so absolutely sure they were absolutely right that they used the power at their disposal to impose their views of reality on all who were under their domain. I think the most unpleasant people I have ever met have been people who were absolutely sure they were absolutely right, and whose mission in life was to impose their views on everyone else by whatever means necessary.

To be a little uncertain, or at least only moderately sure is to be human – and humane. Perhaps the encouraging word for today is that you do not have to be absolutely sure in order to be right. After all, the people with whom Jesus had his most serious problems were those who had no doubt whatsoever that they were absolutely right. Something for us all to think about the next time we are absolutely sure that we are absolutely right.

This will be the final article for The Current from the Rev. Dr. David V. Calhoun, pastor of the West Scarborough United Methodisit Church. He has been reappointed by Bishop Peter Weaver of the New England Annual Conference to serve John Wesley United Methodist church, in Falmouth, Mass.

Best wished to you all!


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