My Dear Ivy,
I’ve written several letters now about learning and discovering and expanding your perspectives and viewpoints. In today’s letter I want to caution you about something as you go through that process. As you grow in age, knowledge, wisdom, and experience, remember this: Some things are not worth outgrowing.
Even as you think through things – and rethink, and process, and re-process – there are some things you will find, that are worth holding onto.
So hold onto them.
That’s easier said than done. One of the advantages of cultivating that healthy skepticism I mentioned in my last letter is that it allows you to let go easily (or at least more easily) of ideas you may have once held strongly, but which you come to realize are unsupported or are inferior to competing viewpoints. The accompanying disadvantage is that it becomes very easy to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” as the old saying goes . . . to discard good ideas along with the bad ones.
This is also tied to what we discussed in earlier letters about holding onto your self. You will encounter some ideas (maybe even some of the ideas in these letters), that become a deeply-held part of who you are. And, as I’ve mentioned in a couple other places, you will regularly encounter people who try to talk you out of them.
Those people – no matter who they are to you – are not necessarily wrong, but they’re not necessarily right either.
I find the parable of G.K. Chesterton’s Fence to be a useful thought experiment in considering these ideas. Chesterton, the early 20th Century philosopher, posited that it is easy to look at an institution or idea, as if looking at some fence across your path, and to say to yourself and those around you, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.”
To which, Chesterton said, “the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
Chesterton’s point is simple, but profound. The “fence” in question may or may not be worth clearing away – but without understanding why it’s there in the first place, you can’t possibly know. In “clearing away” things that are no longer of use, it is easy to sometimes discard those things that are useful, but for which you simply can’t see the use at this time.
It’s the same thing we talked about earlier, with regard to “fields of vision,” and the limited perspective each human mind has about the world we live in. Just because you can’t see the use in something, doesn’t mean that there is no use for it.
This is true of external institutions – and it’s even true with ideas and beliefs inside your own mind. You will rethink and reexamine your own beliefs on occasion (or, if you’re anything like your dad, on many occasions). But as you do so, some will be worth discarding, and some won’t be. Consider well, which beliefs are which.
This also ties into what we discussed earlier about boundaries. Specifically, if you make the considered decision, after careful consideration, to discard a previously-held belief – well and good. If you abandon a belief simply because it has fallen out of fashion, or because someone told you that you should, that’s not so good. Don’t let other people define you or determine what you believe. I’ve been down that road, and it doesn’t end well. It ends with losing your self. And once you’ve lost your self, the process of getting it back is really, really hard. Take it from someone who has been through it.
I don’t know where it originated, but one of my favorite mottos – and generally good ideas for life – is the mantra to “Hold on tightly; let go lightly.”
As I said in an earlier letter, “don’t believe everything you think.” But also, don’t abandon everything you think, just because someone said it was a bad idea.
And again, yes. Even if that someone is me.
Because as I’ve told you again and again (and will continue to do so for the rest of your life), while I will always say and do what I think is best for you, sometimes I will get it wrong.
My hope is that, by cultivating the process of discernment – by carefully considering which ideas to hold onto, and which ones to let go – you’ll get it somewhat less wrong than I do.
I love you.