Commonplace

“Adults experience doubt. Doubt arises naturally as experience calls doctrine into question. Your parents told you one thing. Your experience tells you another. You face apparent contradictions. The contradictions and doubts you are experiencing are the hallmarks of burgeoning adulthood.

“Beware of the temptation, at this crucial moment, to replace one dogma with another. Instead, you must learn to synthesize what you are experiencing with what you have been taught.

“For instance, on the question, say, of marijuana. Parents may tell children that marijuana is bad, period. No question about it. They may make dire warnings whose terrifying images keep children from trying marijuana. Then a kid smokes a joint. He experiences no immediate ill effects. He may decide that marijuana is therefore not harmful at all. He rejects one wholesale fiction for another. The balanced truth is that everything you do has an effect, and anything you do to excess has a cost.

“The danger of teaching a child only one absolute and inviolable set of rules is that when the child meets contradictions she has no way to integrate those contradictions into her world. Integrating your direct experiences into your world of faith requires nuance. When your experience seems to contradict what you have been taught, you have to move beyond the literal and toward the metaphorical and the subjective. In a world of absolutes, those words may sound like the devil’s words. But they represent experience as we know it, not as we wish it were so.”

—Cary Tennis, “Since You Asked” (18 January 2008)

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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