How do we find meaning in the events of our lives? What
do our individual lives signify in our conception of the
When we are searching for answers to the questions we
face in life, we tend to look, first of all, to our previous
experiences. We understand what is happening to us now
in reference to what happened to us before.
Often, too, we look to our religious beliefs and those
ideas we were taught when we were young. We try to understand
what we are experiencing within the framework of what
we learned about the nature of life, death, God and eternity.
Likewise, we look to history and to the ideas and interpretations
that we have received from our culture-accumulated human
knowledge, science and philosophy. The study of history
and the sciences is fundamental for understanding the
unfolding of human development and our part within it.
Our vision of life is integral when it is incorporated
into existing knowledge.
The interpretation that each of us makes of life determines
what we do with our lives-it is the reference that we
use to choose our goals and the way we will fulfill them.
Thus, to have a universal perspective and to find meaning
in life, we need to know how we relate with ideas.
Within the context of this chapter, we use the word "ideas"
to mean those thoughts which are more elevated than our
usual ones, those which promote our unfolding and enable
us to participate with all aspects of reality.
In general, people tend to adopt a conceptual panorama
through which they understand life and society. Our relationship
with that panorama generally follows certain patterns
that, to a great extent, indicate the degree to which
each of us will be able to expand by means of our experiences.
Three types of relationship with ideas can be distinguished
in this process: the emotional, the dogmatic-argumentative,
and the relationship of silence-experimentation. These
three patterns of relationship usually coexist in us in
varying proportions. It could be said that we follow one
or another of these three patterns of relationship depending
on which one predominates in us.
When we relate emotionally with ideas, we are moved by
concepts we believe to be true, but we do not really practice
them. We imagine we are living these ideas because we
are affected emotionally when we first hear about them,
and we sincerely believe in them. But since we don't recognize
any contradiction between what we believe and how we are
living, we interpret our experiences in terms of our desires,
according to our convenience, and we always find arguments
to justify our behavior. We stubbornly defend our beliefs
while, at the same time, we often deny them with our actions.
In this state of consciousness, one could even come to
the point of forgetting one's sacred principles: to love
one's neighbor, to forgive, not to kill; justifying hatred
In an emotional relationship, the reactions of attraction
and rejection have a powerful influence on our interpretation
of experiences and ideas. It is easy to generalize an
opinion solely on what we like or don't like, labeling
something as good or bad according to our own preference.
As attraction and rejection form a large part of our upbringing
and our habits, the emotional relationship with ideas
also tends to be dogmatic.
A dogmatic relationship with ideas reduces our vision
of life to a single point of view. We think our beliefs
are the only truth and we do not accept any other. We
might even project all that is wrong with society on to
those who have opinions different from ours, thinking
that they are the cause of all existing problems. Sadly,
such an attitude is all-too-common in the world, evidenced
by much separativity and hostility.
A dogmatic relationship with ideas causes conflicts and
confrontations and, no matter how much one may argue,
never leads to resolution or greater understanding. When
we are all convinced of our own opinions, we are not seeking
the truth. We want, instead, to prove that others are
wrong. Here, of course, we are referring to a certain
kind of arguing, not to those dialogues which produce
an intellectual interchange, with each member really listening
to different points of view.
An argumentative relationship with ideas is another aspect
of dogmatism and, if we were at this level, we would tend
to criticize everything that we hear. We would think we
already knew everything, and we would hold on to the preestablished
ideas we once adopted but never really analyzed. If new
knowledge coincides with our ideas, we might readily accept
it; if not, we would tend to argue about it and automatically
reject it. Our dogmatic beliefs are like a prism through
which we interpret life. All information is filtered through
our belief system and serves to confirm our own vision
of reality, supporting our certainty that we are always
We are not always conscious of our own dogmatism; interpretations
are so limiting that they can make us believe our way
of thinking is universal and that different approaches
to reality do not even exist. As long as we have this
attitude, we systematically reject all that does not agree
with our ideas and we lose the possibility of expanding
our way of thinking.