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Making a Commitment to Fair-Mindedness

Though no one defines himself or herself as an egocentric person, each of us should recognize that being egocentric is an important part of what we have to understand in dealing with the structure of our mind. One of the ways to begin to confront our own egocentrism is by exploring the extent to which we have allowed our identity to be egocentrically shaped. For example, as we previously emphasized, we are all born into a culture, a nation, and a family. Our parents inculcate into us particular beliefs (about the family, personal relationships, marriage, childhood, obedience, religion, politics, schooling, and so on). We form associations with people who have certain beliefs (which they have encouraged, or expected, us to accept). We are, in the first instance, a product of these influences. Only through self-understanding can we begin to be more than a product of influences.

If we uncritically believe what we were taught to believe, these beliefs are likely to become part of our egocentric identity. When they do, it affects the manner in which we believe. For example, we are all egocentric to the extent that an examination of our attitudes reveals that we unconsciously use egocentric standards to justify our beliefs:

  1. "It's true because I believe it." People don't say this aloud, but we often find ourselves assuming that others are correct when they agree with us and incorrect when they do not. The way we respond to people indicates that we egocentrically assume we have a unique insight into the truth.

  2. "It's true because we believe it." Our behavior indicates that we egocentrically assume that the groups to which we belong have a unique insight into the truth. Our religion, our company, our country, our friends are special—and better.

  3. "It's true because I want to believe it." Our behavior indicates that we more readily believe what coincides with what we egocentrically want to believe, even to the point of absurdity.

  4. "It's true because I have always believed it." Our behavior indicates that we more readily believe what coincides with beliefs we have long held. We egocentrically assume the rightness of our early beliefs.

  5. "It's true because it is in my selfish interest to believe it." Our behavior indicates that we more readily believe what coincides with beliefs that, when held, serve to advance our wealth, power, or position, even if they conflict with the ethical principles that we insist we hold.

If we consciously recognize these tendencies in ourselves and deliberately and systematically seek to overcome them by thinking fair-mindedly, our definition of ourselves can aid our development as thinkers. We then begin to divide our thoughts into two categories: 1) thoughts that serve to advance the agenda of our egocentric nature, and 2) thoughts that serve to develop our rational fair-mindedness. To effectively do this, we need to develop a special relationship to our mind; we must become a student of our mind's operations, especially of its pathology.

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