By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Going Against the Herd

English: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fala and Ruthi...
English: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fala and Ruthie Bie at Hill Top Cottage in Hyde Park, N.Y. The better of two extant photos of FDR in a wheel chair. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Few things have caused more damage to humans than our vast reservoirs of denial. We see it in scandals everywhere--the cover-ups in all types of institutions, the deeply flawed individuals who keep presenting themselves for leadership positions at all levels (private and public), the innumerable instances where individuals just can't understand why others correctly and accurately find them so obnoxious. The latest example in the headlines is from the Penn State scandal in which the now convicted abuser apparently still believes himself innocent and mistreated.

But there is another type of denial that--instead of divorcing us from reality as in the above examples--can actually put us in contact with reality. I will call the first type of exceedingly harmful and destructive denial "truth-denial." The second, healthy type of denial is the type that enables us to reject and refuse the impositions of assumptions that are not necessarily true and often act to choke human flourishing. We can call this healthy version of denial "the denial of the arbitrary." 

For example, FDR famously struggled with his polio disability--to the point of hiding it from public view and by persisting in search of some amelioration of his condition. Some have called his approach denial, but it was surely of the healthy variety: he managed to communicate his vigorous personality without the distraction posed by those prejudiced against physical disability, and he managed to maintain a hopeful disposition invaluable to an entire nation during economic crisis and wartime. FDR denied the arbitrary view that physical disability side-lined you from the wider world of achievement.

Today, of course, people are also faced with various physical and cognitive disabilities (age is even considered by many to be a disability!). I bet that the ones who do best in dealing with them are those who refuse the arbitrary pessimism imposed by the herd.  Moreover, all persons deal with burdens and disabilities that come from their upbringings, from flawed families, from absurd obsessions with money, appearance, ethnicity, ambition, approval, I.Q., pharisaical religiosity, and other matters too various to list. Often, the first step toward liberation from these burdens is to go against the herd, to deny the arbitrary assumptions that keep us burdened.

Denial in its usual and more common form is a great and often overlooked evil, but there is more than one kind. Denial of eminently rebuttable and arbitrary presumptions is the healthy kind and opens a path to discovering that life has more to offer than the condescending herd might arbitrarily assume.

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