How Fanaticism Creeps In

The morning sunlight streams through the window and fills your reading nook with light. After poking your head out the front door and smelling the fresh air, you decide not to venture out. This Saturday morning you are called to forget the world completely and dive deep into your book. What a beautiful luxury.

Suddenly, there is a knock at the front door. "Who could it be?" you think as you move spontaneously towards the door. Your heart sinks. Two well dressed men are standing waiting to talk to you on the front steps. They must be fanatics from some religion or another.

We Are Quick To Label Others As Fanatics

But we are not always so quick to see how fanaticism creeps into our own thinking. And yet it creeps in all the time. As quietly as the sunlight passes through the sheer drapes in the living room.

What Is Fanaticism?

Fanaticism is a kind of non-thinking that happens when we turn experiences into rules.

Maybe at one point in our lives we discovered that we felt better if we juiced our food instead of cooking it. Then we generalize on this experience. We think, "If it was good once, it will be good all the time." And we generalize it to others as well, "If it worked for me, it will work for all other people."

We become fanatics about our juicing. Those who juice become "good," and those who don’t become "outsiders." And as a result of our fanaticism, we suffer the health consequences of too much juicing.

The problem with fanaticism is that it’s not adaptable. It is rigid. It prevents us from basing our lives on our direct experiences. It requires us to disconnect from our experience. To censor and spin our experiences to fit our belief system. This kind of lying to ourselves and others causes stress.

And Stress Begets More Stress

The more out of touch with reality we become the more we cling to the idea that we are right. And the more we want to proselytize. We somehow think we have to convince others to drink the Kool Aid, so that we can stay convinced too.

This narrow way of thinking makes us lose friends. It makes us look bad. We become very closed minded. We start to think, "My way is the only way." And we stop thinking for ourselves in a clear, rational way. We become lazy when we become fanatics.

But Fanaticism Usually Has Good Roots

That’s because fanaticism usually starts with an experience. And life lived on the basis of experience always feels good. It feels right. Juicing is great when it is.

But the problem comes when we lock in on that experience and try to make it a general rule for our life, or the lives of others. When we do that, we stop thinking. We stop evaluating life as it really is. We become fanatics.

A Couple Of Weeks Ago I Made A Fanatic Statement In This Newsletter

Let’s look at it objectively. Thanks to an astute reader who brought it to my attention, I can see exactly where this happened.

In the article about making decisions, I wrote, "When you question your stressful beliefs, it leads to peace." It sounds true enough. So what’s going on here?

In my experience doing The Work, many times I do experience more peace when I question my stressful beliefs. Enough peace, in fact, that I have come to trust The Work very much. But does it always lead to peace?

Not Always

If I think it does, in spite of my experience, then I’m being a fanatic. So let’s see how sometimes The Work does not lead to peace.

Sometimes when I do The Work, I’m just not open enough to find genuine examples of the turnarounds. Sometimes, I’m just not willing to look at who I would be without that thought. And in those cases, my direct experience is that The Work doesn’t lead to peace. I’m left thinking, "I did something wrong," "I’m not good enough," "The Work doesn’t work," "I need an easier way to find peace."

Other times when I’m working on a big issue for me, I notice that The Work can take its sweet time delivering me the peace I want. I remember working on one issue for several years before I found real peace with it. So while it’s true that The Work often leads to peace for me, it does not always lead to peace.

And Yet I Generalized It Further

In my statement I implied that questioning stressful beliefs brings peace to everyone. But I have seen many people try The Work and say, "It’s not for me." For these people, questioning stressful beliefs does not lead to peace.

Also, The Work might lead to more stress for some people. Some people would rather not deal with issues that they’re trying to avoid. Or for someone who’s having a great life, why would they want to dabble in the mud? Questioning beliefs might bring them out of their bliss.

In fact, questioning beliefs could lead to outright war if it came uninvited by a third party. Who likes to have their beliefs questioned by others? I think that is pretty much the only cause of war throughout history. But there I go generalizing again!

So How Do We Counteract Fanaticism When We See It In Ourselves?

Amazingly, it’s very simple. Question the fanatic beliefs. Put your sacred beliefs on the chopping block and ask, "Is it true?" Do The Work on anything. Question even the thought that "questioning stressful beliefs leads to peace." When you leave nothing sacred, this gives an open mind again.

And it is difficult for an open mind to fall prey to fanaticism, (until, of course, it does)!

And an amazing thing happens when you discover and question your own fanatic beliefs. You start to be a lot more tolerant of proselytizers and fanatics that come knocking on your door. They simply remind you of yourself.

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