Thank You is a Better Mantra than Follow the Science
Give Thanks for the Web of Interdependence
Evolutionary biologist Heather Heying delivers a wonderful critique of those who daily chant their devotion to follow the science. Heying writes,
Children are born curious, and by the time they can string a few words together, are asking about the meaning of all manner of things. Not only do they ask, but they observe, and they try (and they try again), and they experiment. It is not the lack of lab coats and glassware that renders most of them non-scientists by the time they reach the end of high school. Rather, it is active, persistent training in not asking unexpected questions, not making careful and repeated observations, and not questioning accepted dogma, which makes most young people into quiescent, meek young adults—who become quiescent and meek middle-aged and old adults—who accept what authorities say.
This, I should not have to spell out, is the antithesis of science. Compliance is anti-scientific. Yet authorities have managed to convince a whole population that compliance with authorities is scientific, and that #FollowTheScience is somehow a scientific final word on the situation, whatever it may be. But the data and analysis being “followed” are so often hidden and, oopsie, also turn out to be changing all the time. We can’t “fact check” the claims made by #FollowTheScience authoritarians, either, because we are being denied access to the actual data in most cases, or the claims are based on such vague arm-waving that we can’t even know what to try to assess and falsify, because what is being claimed anyway?…
How much health—individual and economic—will be sacrificed globally on this altar? It’s censorship in science’s clothing. Look closely, and you will find that this has little to do with science. A censor wearing a lab coat is still a censor, and censorship is fundamentally incompatible with science.
The rest of her essay, well worth your time to read, can be found here.
Those who proclaim their devotion to follow the science are often misanthropic. At best, they demean others who hold different views; at their worst, like medieval torturers, they demand that others bend to their false idols.
Remember early in the pandemic, much was made of expressing gratitude to frontline and essential workers. Whether in healthcare, grocery stores, or other industries, these individuals put their lives on the line to serve us, strengthening links in the web of interdependence we all share.
Yet expressing gratitude often requires us to notice events from a vantage point different from our habitual stream of thinking.
Our very existence depends on others seeing the world differently from us. Living in a rural area, there is no natural gas pipeline bringing fuel to heat our home. Propane is delivered by truck often in challenging weather conditions.
Last summer, while talking with a freight driver making a fencing delivery to our home, I learned of his aspirations to earn his hazardous materials driving license. He would improve his life and the lives of his future customers by succeeding in his goal. In our everyday interactions, we can notice that because others make decisions different from our own, our life is possible.
From an authoritarian mindset, the follow-the-science crowd demands everyone make the same decisions they do. They may protest, no, not all decisions, only health decisions. Should we follow their science about the food we eat? Should we follow their science about the medical procedures we elect? There is no one-size-fits-all, not for diet or health or anything else.
From an authoritarian mindset, without missing a beat, some of those who, early in the pandemic, proclaimed their love of “health angels” followed the science to demand firing those “angels” who didn’t take their prescribed sacrament.
There is a better mantra than follow the science; a mantra that reflects the reality of our mutual interdependence.
Author, lecturer, and humorist, Jonathan Robinson has an antidote to the craven selfishness among those who would dictate the lives of others. My telling of his humorous, apocryphal tale is adopted from his print and live versions, such as his Google talk.
Robinson heard of an Indian guru who taught a "magical mantra" that “helped people develop an attitude of gratitude.”
Seeking to learn the mantra, Robinson traveled eighteen hours by airplane and four hours by rickshaw. Sweating and jet-lagged, Robinson arrived at the guru’s ashram only to wait in line for five hours for an audience with the guru. In his presence, the guru whispered in Robinson’s ear, "Ah yes, my technique is the most powerful mantra on earth. Whenever possible, repeat the following words in your head. The magical mantra I give you is the words 'Thank You.'"
Extremely upset, Robinson replies, "That's IT!?"
The guru instructs Robinson: "No 'that's it' is the mantra you have been using, and that mantra makes you feel like you never have enough.” The guru continues, "’That's it' will take you nowhere, but 'Thank You' will quiet your mind and open your heart. So when you eat good food, say thank you! When you see your child, or a sunset or your pet, repeat the mantra 'thank you,' and soon you will have an attitude of gratitude for each blessing in your life."
The guru's wisdom finally reached Robinson. On his trip home, he noticed miracles of modern life, air conditioning, flush toilets, airplanes, computers. He felt the words "thank you" swelling in his heart and forming on his lips.
"That’s it” is a great mindset scourge of our time. “That’s it” makes the whole of humanity less than the sum of its parts. We grumble as we perceive we are on the short end of the stick. “That’s it” makes it difficult to view life in empathy with others.
Viewing life in empathy with others allows gratitude to arise in us for those who, like healthcare and grocery store workers, put themselves at risk to serve us. A teacher, viewing life with empathy sees the education and mental health needs of children. Gratitude for the opportunity to teach diminishes demands to be sheltered. Each of us can see our place in life as service to others, even as others serve us.
Gratitude does not depend upon circumstances; gratitude is a function of our state-of-mind. We are doomed without others making a myriad of decisions different from our own. Mutual interdependence is a fundamental truth of life.
Say thank you to those who do not follow the science; their decisions help science advance. Our mind will calm, and our heart will open with a mindset of gratitude for others who make decisions different from our own. In a mindset of gratitude, we make better decisions as we take our place in the web of interdependence.
Portions of this essay originally were published in Intellectual Takeout.
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I say ‘thank you’ to my wife for everything she does for me even though we have different ideologies. As far as ‘follow the science’., My son had Covid in July, took ivermectin and was back at work in less than two days. But big tech and Pharma and celebrities would denounce you for ‘not following the science’. Even the NYT, a progressive newspaper, came out today with an article and admitted there no difference from mandate states from un-mandated ones who were flush with data not emotions. I’ve always been a contrarian… I question everything.
I took the link to Heather Heying's column and immediately subscribed. I think she's right that everyone CAN engage the world with a scientific mindset, but that most people have been taught not to do so. At least in theory, what has been learned in error can be unlearned, though most of us fiercely defend whatever beliefs we've constructed in our heads, which is interesting: I'm not sure what evolutionary advantage this rigidity imparts. It certainly can cause a lot of mischief.
To the message this column conveys: yes. I hadn't heard that guru story before; it's a good encapsulation of a simple truth. Joseph Campbell recommends thinking of others with the words "thee" and "thou" (even if it would be too awkward to use those words in speech) as helpful to understanding the connection between all of us.