I had an insight the other day that I wanted to share. I have applied it so far in only a fairly spotty way. But the insight itself has gripped me and seems to hold a lot of promise, so I thought I’d share it.
I’ve been reflecting on how the human mind can treat two things very differently that really should be treated the same. We can apply one set of rules to one thing, and another set of rules to another, virtually identical thing. If my favorite sports team, for instance, does something slightly underhanded, then I have an excuse, I give them the benefit of the doubt. If the other team, however, does something underhanded, then I apply a different, less charitable and forgiving set of rules to them. The only thing justifying this difference, really, is an imaginary line I have drawn between the two teams. Once I have drawn that line, it seems perfectly natural to apply different rules to the two sides.
This is, of course, an incredibly familiar phenomenon. We call it bias, or a double standard. As I reflected on it, I realized that the basis for it is identification. I identify with the one team and not the other. The mental line that I have drawn, then, is ultimately a line between the “me” and the “not me.” Once I put something in the “me” camp, I will naturally treat it totally differently than something in the “not me” camp. This different treatment will not seem voluntary. It will seem transparently obvious to me that the two things are totally different on an objective level–all because I drew that line.
So, I realized, the mental divide between “me” and “not me,” between self and other, is really the mother of all bias. It is the primordial double standard.
Then I had one last thought: According to the Course, this divide between self and other has no ultimate basis. It arose through the exact process I sketched above in relation to the sports teams. I just drew a line in my mind, an imaginary line. One side I labeled “me,” and the other side I labeled “not me.” At first, this line was probably faint and subtle, causing only the most minute sense of difference between the two sides. But, probably over millions of years (which is how long, according to the Course, it took us to separate), the line got to be an unyielding barrier. Eventually, the line became my body. So now I look around, and the divide between me and another is absolute and physical. I don’t hear the sounds that reach their ears, the sensations that reach their skin, the smells that reach their nose. On the other side of my body, it is all “not me.”
But maybe that is not a fact. Maybe it is just an incredibly entrenched bias. Maybe it is just an ancient double standard, a line I drew in my mind a long, long time ago that claimed to divide the “me” from the “not me.” Maybe it’s all me, on both sides of the line, even now. It may seem transparently obvious that what’s inside my body is objectively different than what’s inside yours, but isn’t that how bias always works?
I did work with this some on the weekend. I used “Let me perceive no differences today” (Lesson 262). The more I thought about it, the more mind-expanding I found it. I look forward to working with it some more.