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SYMBOLS OF BELIEF

July 31st, 2020

 

People wear sports jerseys for the same reason Christians wear a cross as a necklace pendant.  This might come across irreverent, but ask: is it necessary to wear such religious iconography?  Does it decrease one’s faith to go without it?  It’s not required by tradition.  We can ask the exact same questions of the sports fan and the answers are identical.  Why do sports fans wear such paraphernalia?  Is it necessary?  Does it decrease one’s ability to be a ‘fan’ to go without it?  It’s certainly not required by the sports team to wear such gaudy crap in order to be a fan and ‘support’ the team…

 

The focus here might seem harmless, but would such symbols still exist in a world without vision?  They seem quite pointless if not seen, so the concentration bends towards the issue of: what’s the purpose of other people seeing such symbols?  

 

Are these symbols for other people who see them?

 

Are these symbols for the people who wear them?

 

The answer is presumably: both

 

 

If you see a snide looking fellow walking around with a smirk and sporting a t-shirt that says C.E.O, how might you interpret the choice to wear such an ill-stained rag?  Clearly someone is concerned with convincing other people something.  And what does such an externally vectored attempt tell us about what’s going on inside the mind of the person who makes such decisions about their appearance.

 

It’s easy to ask:  who are you trying to convince?  Us? Or yourself?

 

There is the delightful tenant floating around modern culture that you have to fake it till you make it.  And who is such faking for?  Do we achieve our aspirations if everyone else around us believes us to be the thing we yearn to be?  Or do we fake it in order to fool ourselves into a new belief about who we think we are?  Is it perhaps both?  Whether we like to admit it or not, the opinions of others are tantamount to our success and sense of self worth.  We are nothing without the web of humanity in which we exist.  There is of course that confused advice to not care what anyone else thinks.  This is half-baked advice.  The key isn’t to brush away everyone’s opinion, but to curate the slice of people whose opinions you do care about and should care about because the perspectives of these people are valuable and incisive in ways that you find admirable. 

 

There are of course times when absolutely everyone, the fans included, think the intrepid explorer is out of their mind to jump off the edge of the world in search of an answer to a strange hypothesis.   As they say: moderation in everything… including moderation, which means sometimes, it’s necessary and worth while to lash lead to one’s ankles and dive into the deep end, just to find out how deep it really is.  In such cases the action is based solely in a belief, a hunch, an understanding, a possibility.  It’s not an ‘act’ that is performed for other people to admire or receive information from.  It’s a genuine attempt.

 

And here both extremes of the spectrum wrap around to meet.  We have the strange and disapproved ostentatious action that is undertaken not for publicity but genuinely due to an individual curiosity.  And then we have the fan and the devotee who ostentatiously displays symbols of their belief.  Visually, there is great similarity here, but one important difference: 

 

Who is more likely to be genuine in their actions?

 

Alas, now enters William James, who once wrote: 

 

“Our practice is the only sure evidence, even to ourselves, that we are genuine.”

 

In that light, what’s the point of wearing the jersey, or the C.E.O. t-shirt, or even the unrequited religious symbol?

 

We must always suspiciously wonder: who are we trying to fool?

 

Take note, as Richard Feynman once said:  you must not fool yourself, and You are the easiest person to fool.


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Podcast Ep. 838: Symbols of Belief

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