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On Belonging and Critical Thinking

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the tension between critical thinking and the desire to be accepted and belong. Somehow my mind always seems to circle back to one particular issue: the price many are prepared to pay just to feel they belong. To them, avoiding standing alone at all costs often overrules the damaging impact social pressure can have on the ability to perceive clearly and think objectively.
Neil Postman, one of the most eloquent media theorists and a cultural critics of the 20th century, claimed that every technological innovation has its own agenda. Once we adopt the new invention, we become (mostly without realizing it!) part of its manner of dictating the rules of reality. The same, I believe, holds true for any system, culture, tradition, community, country and policy, when embraced in a blind and desperate rush. In order to benefit from it, we’re required to comply with its postulates. In order to be accepted, we’re often asked to leave out most of what makes us “us”. We’re implicitly shown that being ‘similar, ordinary, normal, and above all, not questioning things’ is what guarantees our safety within the larger community of like-minded individuals with low tolerance for contrasting world views and differences in perspective.
Choosing to fit in comes at a high price as it adds a filter of conformity to our senses and minds. It can make us numb and blunt, if we allow it. It can remove our sensitivity to nuance and possibility. It designates that “what is” is the best of what can be and there is no point in trying to figure out anything better. Engaged into this dangerous game makes it challenging to distinguish fact from fiction, form from content, value from illusory worth.
In addition, any serious attempt of thinking critically and viewing reality in a more objective way is condemned as lack of gratitude and a coup towards the system (aka community, country, tradition etc.) we’ve decided to be a part of. A subtle way to discourage us from thinking for ourselves is to drown us into a powerful stream of fragmented and biased narratives, selectively offering glimpses of a reality. Disconnecting from the sources that determine how we perceive of the world becomes our act of courage and almost equals rebellion. It’s worth it even if it means that for a while we will have to stand alone.

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This post is the first in a series of short musings on topics inspired by the past 14 years of living as an expat in the Netherlands. Some of the posts may be revised or expanded into full essays. As always, thank you for taking the time to read my work. It is my hope that it keeps adding valuable insights to your life. If it does, feel free to subscribe for new content and share it with others.


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