My grandmother lived a far-out wisdom. Heavenly in her own way. Educated in the dirt-road classrooms of human nature — the ones that run through a sound mind’s good sense to believe people the first time when they show you who they are.
She was smart and kind, my Granny. She knew how to grow a strawberry patch and knew the folly of harvesting grievances against people who wronged her. Her intellect can still teach plenty to me.
And yet my grandmother didn’t believe a man walked on the moon.
I suppose she feared the thought we’d left our tracks up there. Maybe God, as she imagined Him, might take umbrage at our making a mess where we didn’t belong. My Grandmother did not want to believe we’d done something so audacious. She couldn’t imagine the reasons we even wanted to sling ourselves so far out, expecting to find our way home. So, in my wise grandmother’s mind, we never did.
This is motivated reasoning. Hers, mine, yours.
Motivated reasoning means we want certain things to be true or untrue. We want our truths so much, we will run from evidence to the contrary faster than a Kardashian escaping a Dollar General. Humans have, at our very essence, a fight or flight response. If we hate snakes and see one, we try to kill it, or break a tibia trying to get away from it. The same with matters of the heart, and the mind. Eugene O’Neil in the Iceman Cometh dabbled in the ideals of men. Yes, they were drunks, not wanting their illusions to shatter. Once they shattered in his world of the play, not even the booze worked anymore to make life feel just okay again.
The point is we have to push ourselves. Step or jump from the boat of contented illusion into the seas of how things really are. Only then do we reach shores of our betterment. Only by daring to believe what others could not, or would not, did we, yes, reach the moon.
Google motivated reasoning. Filter your thoughts, beliefs, illusions through this truth of ourselves. It’s not a merit. Motivated reasoning is our weakness. One of our many. My loving, well-meaning grandmother, despite her wisdom, displayed it plenty. She used to interpret the Bible as forbidding heart surgery. She thought God frowned upon that. I suppose to so pragmatic a mind, it just seemed indecent, human hands touching such a tender place. She and I never talked about scapegoating, but I wish we had. That notion that draws from Biblical myth and mis-translation. People not terribly unlike you and me believed, at one time, a goat could carry away the sins of a people into the wilderness. Thankfully, now goats just eat kudzu, give milk and celebrate their females wearing a beard.
My grandmother would be around 105 years old by now. She died before we had an internet, widespread cell phones and people mesmerized by Pokemon. The elastic of her lovely mind might have tried to bend itself away from believing in such a future on the day she died. Her reasoning found motivation in wanting simpler times and ways.
But I wish she had lived to see all this before us now. The images of the Hubble Telescope. The miracles of stem cells and routine heart transplantation. I wish she had lived to see what my father’s belief in me did for my education, my career, my prosperity, thank God. Perhaps if she had, that tender yet iron-worn matriarch might caution us all: Be careful what you want to believe, or don’t. Take it from a lady who’s watched many seasons come and go. Beware of the tricks your own mind will play.
Even as I write this, I like to imagine her voice on the words, “Pass me that moon rock, son. Let me shatter an illusion or three right out of you, too.”