An old fashioned liberal arts university education was largely based around teaching students to think for themselves. These days, it’s even more important with fake news, fake anything on the internet, and leaders that blatantly lie to us. The Baha’i Faith strongly encourages people to think for themselves, and to recognize the Manifestation of God for today, Baha’u’llah, through their own eyes and own understanding, and not to follow blindly any charsmatic leader who claims to authority or superiority of some kind.
In fact, learning anything new may help lessen a person’s mental health struggles. I got this idea from the book Curious, written by a BBC TV show producer who experienced a severe depression, and got through his depression by learning new things and being “curious”. I have also found this works from my own personal experience. Perhaps this is related to building new neural networks in your brain to over-ride the neural networks that were built previously, which set you up for your mental health challenges. Norman Diodge explains this amazing phenomena in his book The Brain That Changes Itself.
If you are wondering what to learn, consider the following areas based on what your personal situation is: problem solving, urgent issues or needs, interest, fun, long term goals, spiritual development, career development, relationships, specific mental health challenges, physical health. BrainyQuote has many deep cool quotes that can help kick start your independent thought.
“Furthermore, know ye that God has created in man the power of reason, whereby man is enabled to investigate reality. God has not intended man to imitate blindly his fathers and ancestors. He has endowed him with mind, or the faculty of reasoning, by the exercise of which he is to investigate and discover the truth, and that which he finds real and true he must accept. He must not be an imitator or blind follower of any soul. He must not rely implicitly upon the opinion of any man without investigation; nay, each soul must seek intelligently and independently, arriving at a real conclusion and bound only by that reality. The greatest cause of bereavement and disheartening in the world of humanity is ignorance based upon blind imitation. It is due to this that wars and battles prevail; from this cause hatred and animosity arise continually among mankind. Through failure to investigate reality the Jews rejected Jesus Christ…
… God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has endowed man with ears that he may hear the message of reality and conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears nor comprehend with another’s brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore, depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise, you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God. Turn to God, supplicate humbly at His threshold, seeking assistance and confirmation, that God may rend asunder the veils that obscure your vision. Then will your eyes be filled with illumination, face to face you will behold the reality of God and your heart become completely purified from the dross of ignorance, reflecting the glories and bounties of the Kingdom.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace)
“O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.” (Baha’u’llah, Arabic Hidden Words)
“O son of man! If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee, and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf)
I have wondered what justice means, and I think the good old golden rule, as defined by many traditions and religions, comes pretty close, if not describing it perfectly.
Of course, thinking for yourself clearly means that you have a good capacity to be truthful and honest. This means, not only about the world and other people, but also about your own self. One of the 12 step slogans is “know yourself, be honest”. I believe that you get better at virtues like truthfulness by practicing them often, similar to how sports or music stars get really good by practicing their craft. The Baha’i writings are very clear about the importance of developing the capacity for truthfulness in ourselves.
“Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also be acquired.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Cited in Shoghi Effendi,”The Advent of Divine Justice”)
“Consider that the worst of qualities and most odious of attributes, which is the foundation of all evil, is lying. No worse or more blameworthy quality than this can be imagined to exist; it is the destroyer of all human perfections and the cause of innumerable vices. There is no worse characteristic than this; it is the foundation of all evils.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions)
“If the sum of all sins were to be weighed in the balance, falsehood would, on its own, countervail them; nay its evils would even outweigh them and its detriment prove greater. It were better for thee that thou shouldst be a blasphemer and tell the truth than that thou shouldst mouth the formulas of faith and yet be a liar.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Trustworthiness compilation)
It has been my understanding that our ability to face reality determines our mental health. If we refuse to face reality, in ourselves, others, society, life, whatever, we have some degree of mental illness. In Scott Peck Road Less Traveled, he writes that life is difficult, because of problems and the negative emotions that are associated with problems. “This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health.” (Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled)
Prejudice is also a huge barrier to understanding truth and reality. Prejudice derives from the word prejudge. Prejudge means that you assume all kinds of things about a person based on fairly superficial, neutral or anecdotal information, or things they may have little or no control over, such as the clothes they wear, the vehicle they drive, their job, their highest level of education completed, where they live, who their friends are, their family, how other people treat them, their disabilities, their lifestyle or interests, the church or religion they belong to, the color of their skin, their gender, their age, their nationality, the language they speak, and so on. Like the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by looking at it’s cover.
So for example, a person can take one of the characteristics above, say the vehicle they drive, and assume many things about the person based on the vehicle they drive. For example, based on past experience, you have concluded that anyone that drives a Corvette is an arrogant jerk. This is prejudging their character, without even realizing you don’t know enough about the person to make that automatic assumption. A common prejudice is that young male African Americans are violent, dangerous or criminal. This is so common, police have for decades, perhaps centuries, unfairly targeted and treated young black males solely on their color of their skin, their age and their gender.
Usually prejudice is negative, though people can have positive prejudices too, such as having an unreasonably high opinion of a person because they are a sports, music or movie star, or seeing the aforementioned attributes in a positive way (the vehicle they drive, the color of their skin, etc). The basic problem with prejudice, is that often or usually it’s not true and it’s not fair. Abdu’l-Baha says, prejudice can ultimately lead to war, or even genocide such as Nazi Germany or 1990’s Rwanda.
Here are more links about the Baha’i teaching of the individual investation of truth.