Parents helping their daughter to get ready for school

The Benefits of Unlearning What is Familiar

For us to have more meaningful thoughts, we must change the way we think. For us to change the way you see. As we discussed earlier, the brain is in the dark confines of your skull. It has to rely on our senses such as sight to create any type of meaning.

The reason why our perspective is so strong is that our brain is pretty permanent in the way we familiarize ourselves with the things that we see. When I see a bird flying through the air, I’m not going to call it a fish. If I see someone crying, the same thing happens; my default interpretation would probably be that they are sad. The person could be angry, or even crying tears of joy. Familiarity brings about certainty, which brings objectivity that we already know doesn’t exist.

Ruined by Routine

Familiarity runs through every aspect of our life, not just our site. It shows up in our routines. A good example of this could be the route we take to and from work and school. There’s a good chance that you take the same route every day. There’s no sense of adventure because you pass the same streets, buildings, and trees. it’s so familiar to you that you don’t even have to think about driving. Your mind is on cruise control. 

When things get too familiar, we lose the unique qualities of people, places, or things. It all becomes the same to us. We only see our coworkers at work, so we only regard them as coworkers even though they have a whole life outside of the office. In effect, we only see them as their job title. It’s the origin of many of our stereotypes as well. The black man walking down the street can be seen as a thug to the woman approaching as she clutches her purse. Anything we aren’t familiar with is typically seen as a threat.

There is no uniqueness in our lives as well. Our lives become routine. We wake up, go to work/school, come home, watch TV, go to sleep and do it all again on Tuesday. I’m a victim of routine as well. I actually like doing the same thing to get myself ready for the day. At the same time, the deepest parts of our being can be described in a couple words. Some people find their identity in their position. Some people see themselves as their political affiliation. Others choose religion in which weekly traditions like going to church, temple, or mass are a safe place.

 I don’t think we realize how stale life is living in this way. Our faith becomes nothing more than ritual. Maintaining relationships is not through love but through obligation. Even talking to people about their meaninglessness is a chore, but I guess small talk is necessary, right? We are not governed by our hearts, but by what keeps us comfortable. That comfortability makes us automatically classify the things that we perceive. We need to place everything we see in its appropriate box that makes sense to us, limiting the capabilities of what could be. They say that robots are coming to take our jobs, but… what if we’re the robots?

Let’s Make Great Things New Again

To get out of the rut, we have to defamiliarize ourselves with the world. The term defamiliarization comes from the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky. The way he described the word is in terms of art. The  easiest way to describe it in this contest  is to “make things  strange.” Take something you think you know and make it new.

Using religion as an example again, I know that Christianity has always been routine for me. My parents were very involved in the church from a very young age. My dad played the keyboard and my mom sang in the choir. That means we were not only at church on Sunday, but just about every day for bible study and rehearsal. When it came to Sundays, we didn’t just go to one service, we went to all of them. The church was an all-day/night event.

As I grew older and more independent, I started to go to church less often. It didn’t feel like anything special, other than doing my Christian duties. For a while, I kind of went to church just to please my dad who recommended one to me. At the time I might have been way too familiar with the teachings of the week. I felt like I heard the same things growing up and very little of it made a difference in my life because I already knew the story being told. Jesus was born in a manger… check. Jesus had twelve disciples… check. He died on the cross for my sins, got it.

It wasn’t until I expanded my perspective into other faiths that I saw Jesus. It was the change in perspective that I needed. I started off with Buddhism and its teachings about suffering. I ignored suffering. that could have been the naivety of my youth. Reading the Buddha’s teachings on suffering, I could relate to Jesus dying on the cross, enduring the ultimate amount of suffering during his crucifixion. I read about Daoism and Wu Wei, which means “do nothing” in Chinese. I open up the Bible and it says, “Be still and know that you are God.”

Divinity in Diversity

There are many similarities between teachings in other modes of faith. The Bible also says that all good things come from God. I can’t believe that this word is only confined to Christianity. There are many things we can learn from other walks of faith, but religion discourages us because it allows us to become unfamiliar with our default beliefs. Learning about the different ideas of different gifted people only made me a better follower of Christ. I honestly feel like I’ve learned more in the few years of expanding my horizons than going to church every Sunday for 25+ years. I hope relearning would enhance your faith, whatever that may be.

Defamiliarizing ourselves with the norms of the world makes things new. It sparks the curiosity that was lost to routine. Once we stop putting people, places, and ideas into boxes, we’ll start to appreciate them a bit more. Understanding the diversity in everything makes everything better. You can’t say you love hip-hop but only listen to Drake. In the same way, you can’t judge a person’s entire life off on one mistake. I really hope you didn’t read about my Christian experience and picture the evil done in the name of religion. It gives us a reason to not be curious. Just thinking we know an answer gives us a reason not to ask. We spend most of our time trying to make everything fit into a box. Within the box,  there’s comfort. Outside the box, there’s opportunity.