One of the most important, most enlivening things you can do is to question. Question authority, yes, but why stop there? Examine your own most deeply-held beliefs, thoughts, even your thought processes. Certainly question everything you hear from so-called experts (X-spurts), and query and quiz your friends and relatives. Most of all, question yourself.
Many of our beliefs are semi-conscious to subconscious. We are not aware of why we think and feel the way we do. And this makes us easy prey for those who want to manipulate us. To strengthen your mind, and to slap some hardwood into your backbone, question everything.
For instance, for about a decade or so, the media has taken to calling every death a tragedy. Every single death I hear about on the radio (I'm too lively to watch TV) has been called a tragedy until the word tragedy nearly yawned me into an early grave. So I ask, is every death so ultimately horrible? Hell, no. Considering that death is the Exit Door for the human race and everything else that lives, it is only a rare and startling death that can be called a tragedy. Death is merely a fact of life, one coin, two sides. I'd like my death to be by firing squad, please. I love the dramatic aspect: Blam, blam, blam, and I'm out of here!
Ask. When some X-spurt claims that one out of four women are raped, don't just believe him. Ask lots of women you know, and see what they say. The way silly feminist thinking has taken over these days, some women might actually think they had been raped when they haven't — just a rough date or a bit of harassment. Women who have really been raped in any of its ugly or brutal forms won't much like to talk about it. Rape is another word that has been cheapened out of its horrible but very real meaning.
I've asked awkward questions all my life, and I intend to keep on it until I actually scare up that firing squad. It makes life interesting. I've learned many fascinating things by being willing to inquire into seemingly taboo areas. It is hard to imprison a mind that keeps asking questions and that is unwilling to put up with pat or accepted answers.
You can expect hard times, some dislike from those around you, perhaps a beating or two. Certainly there is danger involved. But also expect fun, for fun is what you'll find. You will find that 99% of X-spurts are so dumb as to believe the lies they tell you, but you'll also find out that they are lying, or at least not presenting the whole truth.
Read books you think you will hate. Go to political meetings that you think you will abhor. You'll find people there. Just folks like you, for the most part. Some will be ideologues, another breed entirely, but most are just people. Ask them questions. Tell them you are from the enemy camp if you really want to have fun, but do not disrespect them. Unless they are ideologues, then feel free. I can't stand ideologues.
Ask anybody anything, within reason, and with an honest interest. To this day you can see blinders on a horse's harness. The blinders keep the horse from seeing too much, and thus spooking. That's fine for horses, but it is very limiting for a human. Get spooked! Get enlivened! Kick up some of that dust on the long road from here to there. Your life will be far richer, and you much better for it.
Oh. As to the emperor's new clothes? Who sez that naked man is an emperor? Quick, let's hang a snapping turtle off the end of him. :) I just know I'll be successful in finding that firing squad!
August 5, 2000
Patricia Neill is managing editor of a scholarly journal on the life and work of William Blake, the 18th-century artist and poet.
© 2000 by Patricia Neill