Sixteen years ago, I completed a degree in psychology, with double minors in religion and philosophy. I planned my coursework out with obsessive precision, so that I managed to get almost all my course credits within these three subjects. I sprinkled in a bit of sociology, political science and yoga to round things out. With these courses as my areas of focus, I spent four years of my life writing papers and arguing. I often think back to that atmosphere of rigorous debate, missing the energy of those students around me. As we engaged in considering new ideas and trying on different worldviews, we shaped our belief systems to take with us into the next stage of life. What was so different about that time? Though I miss it, would I even want to integrate that kind of dialogue into my life these days? What would be the value?
In considering what was so different about that period, I think the main distinction was the element of searching. I was seeking truth and knowledge in a way that feels very difficult to find time for now. In addition to a lack of time, I often feel a lack of need. I chose my current religious identity nearly 20 years ago, and I am not looking for any sort of major change in that aspect of my life.
My political views have been another story, but those have changed less through vigorous debate, and more through quiet and continual observation of the realities I have seen. My college years were a time of panning for golden nuggets of truth, and I found them in many different streams of belief and philosophy.
I sometimes feel like I would like to incorporate more spirited dialogue into my life, but it is difficult to find the right kind of context to do so. Now, I am no longer in a place of looking for truth to fill my cup. Instead, letting go of my own beliefs would require loss, some grief, and some real struggle. I know I am not alone in having lost some eagerness to change and grow.
Usually, I always have space for considering different viewpoints, allowing their validity for those who hold them, without feeling an obligation to accept them as my own. But I typically lack the desire to actively seek out different ways of looking at issues, in order to adopt them as a fresh new perspective.
Great value can be found in engaging in the pursuit of truth, especially when it results in an understanding of the significant common ground shared within philosophies and religions. While I am far from a relativist, I feel strongly that truth is woven throughout all the major religions and philosophies I have studied. And I believe that while there is ultimately one true and complex spiritual reality, I am comfortable with the thought that I do not really grasp all of it. Even though my chosen religion has an inherent theme of claiming a complete view of spiritual truth, it is not necessary for me to fully embrace the concept.
How can I reconcile my desire for a return to that period of my life characterized by so much debate and discovery with my current reality of being a busy parent and student in a field mostly free of philosophy? First, I can recognize the readily available opportunities I have for expanding my worldview, even if they are more passive. Second, I can recognize that the changing seasons of my life involve growth focused in different areas — sometimes in beliefs, sometimes in relationships, and sometimes in skill building.
Finally, I can intentionally step out of my echo chamber at times and engage in dialogues with acquaintances, friends and loved ones who hold varying beliefs. My objectives may be different than they were as an eager undergraduate. Today, my main goals can be listening and understanding, because debate only works with two interested parties. Most of us are willing to share some of the beliefs we care about, and during this season of my life, I can allow a space for relationship-building through receiving others’ thoughts and views with genuine interest.
Palmer is a doctoral student at the University of Idaho, who has been enjoying the Palouse with her husband and children since 2012. She can be reached at email@example.com.