The education of one American
One of the benefits in speaking more than one language is the facility for checking the meaning of concepts by cross-reference. In the precision inherent in the vocabulary of my African language, Yoruba, the speaker is compelled to say clearly what he knows to be true, or what he merely supposes. While in one case he will state with affirmation, in the other he must declare that he does not know the truth on the matter in question but is expressing, for the moment, what seems to be true. In the latter case, he must begin his submission with the prefix “I assume.” In no case will he defend such supposition with tenacity as if it were inviolable truth. In this linguistic milieu, the people often say, “I do not know.” This structured precision of the African language provided the background for a conversation with an American lady. In the discussion about sports, Bonita Brown declared that she was expressing her opinion.
“I am entitled to my opinion,” she said.
“Yes, it is your right and I have no quarrel with that. The problem is that you have relegated everything to the realm of opinion, such that when one states a truth of life, it is immediately cast into the dustbin of personal opinion. There is no recognition for authority, such as is inherent in enlightenment revealed by the prophets of God.”
“Can you give an example?”
“Yes. Consider questions about the meaning of life: What is a human being? What happens to the human consciousness at death? Do we live after death? Are there realms invisible to mortal sight? These issues do not call for man’s opinions. Each person should start out with the acknowledgment that he does not know the truth on each question. If he gives the matter the attention it deserves and seeks, he will find true answers, not opinions.”
“But a person must have his own opinions.”
“Yes, a person may express opinions on trivial matters. However, on serious issues, what is wrong with declaring that he does not know? In that way, he keeps his life simple. Why must one have opinions at all?”
“That is the way we are in America. We express opinions on everything, including things we don’t know.”
“Indeed. There are many talk shows in which people speak with authority and defend their ignorance on some subject, instead of simply saying they are yet to know the truth. In one edition of the Bill Maher show “Politically Incorrect,” one man said he did not believe the idea of guidance or wisdom being handed down from above, but he accepted ‘only what worked.’ I wished I could tell him that whatever has been handed down from above always works, and can be verified by observation of everyday phenomena. Is the law of cause and effect to be rejected because mankind was told by Jesus that “what a man sows, that shall he reap?” Thank Goodness, Bill Maher told him that “indeed truths are handed down from above.” But the other man immediately said it was an opinion. It is amazing that many do not even know the meaning of that word.”
At this point, Bonita brought out a dictionary to check the meaning of opinion. She read out some of the definitions: “a belief stronger than impression but less strong than positive knowledge; judgment resting on grounds insufficient for complete demonstration; belief of something as probable or as seeming to one’s mind to be true, as distinct from knowledge, conviction or certainty.”
“Wow,” she exclaimed, “I did not know the meaning of the word before. This is the first time I bothered to look it up. We speak of opinion so often here.”
“I am fortunate that in my mother-tongue, Yoruba, there is no such word as opinion. The language compels exactness. This is true of many languages in the world. In any language, however, the important thing is to be true and clear in speech. I will give you an illustration. I have a brother who always expresses assumptions. One day, a friend took my car for a drive while I was inside my house. When some important visitors I was expecting came to the gate of the house, he told them that I was not in. Later, when I questioned him about it, he had to state in our language that he assumed I was out because he did not see the car! Asked why he did not bother to check the house before giving out incorrect information, he begged for forgiveness. On the serious issues of our existence, we often express our assumptions and opinions instead of seeking true answers.”
“Is there life after death? How and where do we live after death?”
“Conscious existence continues after “death’ which is really a transition. The essential first step in receiving enlightenment on this is for you to acknowledge that you do not know what death is. Next, you seek. Your understanding begins with the recognition that the human being is not the physical body but the animating essence using the body for a while. Death is the permanent separation, from the body, of the life essence, which continues to exist in realms invisible to mortal sight. As you uphold the teachings in the Bible, you will find in it the statements: The body is the temple of the living spirit. Without the spirit, the body is dead.” That is true. Upon that foundation you can expand your awareness and know about related topics. These include the process of detaching from the body, the realms unseen where we go after the transition, how we are received over there, the process of growth and development in the beyond, the preparation for those who still need to return to newly forming human bodies on earth, et cetera. There are books here in this world for the dispassionate seeker of truth. There is an authoritative work: “In the Light of Truth, the Grail Message” published in the 1920s and which explains the structure of the entire Creation. It is there in black and white. Yet, how can people who do not recognize the difference between opinion and truth draw from such a work? One of the obstacles to the acquisition of the necessary enlightenment is the habit of expressing opinions before the quest for the truth.”
“You sound so sure of these things. How can we know they are true?”
“If you are genuine in your existing faith, you must have many unanswered questions. If you seek the answers with the required diligence, you will find published works containing valid explanations, which are not the opinions of the compilers. Although the knowledge of these matters is universal, there is a torrent of information pouring to America in these times. The media has a role to play in bringing the awareness to the public, that this is a healthy, normal field of knowledge, which confirms much that is upheld in faith. It is necessary information that gives meaning to life on earth.”
“Maybe you came to America to be part of this age of spiritual awakening in America.”
“I do not know. You do not know. Let us avoid speculations. First of all, it is important to teach people to learn to say, ‘I don’t know’. ”
“I have learned that now. You should consider compiling a bibliography of books that are healthy to read. This is only a humble suggestion, and not an ‘opinion’! I must be careful with my choice of words to ensure that my speech is simple and true.”
The dialogue was an education for the American lady, as well as for every human being anywhere in the world.
This article was first published in The Guardian in June 1999.