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Tightropes

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Published on Mar 18, 2012

A high wire spans across a great divide, nearly 50 feet above the ground when the tightrope walker begins his work. Not a bead of sweat adorns his brow. Not a trembling nerve unsteadies the beam in his grip. He traverses his narrow gauntlet of gravity armed with the confidence that can only be forged by the combination of experience, and knowledge of a firmly secured safety net beneath him. Had his routine journey across the 20 feet of taught cable been a potentially fatal one, his nerves surely would have been compounded. Ironically the unsteady nervousness from fear of a deathly failure may well have caused the very fall he'd dread. His eyes trained only on the platform ahead, he never once peers down at the steady net he knows awaits in case of his fall, or the solid ground beneath it. The sinew of his powerful calves refuses to relax until both his feet touch the landing and the anxious crowd erupts in triumphant cheer. The performer turns to take a bow, and notices the safety net below him was never there, and all that awaited him, had he failed, was unforgiving concrete.
The question that matters in this scenario is if the man would have been better off investigating his safety net first to find no evidence of its presence, or believing with absolute certainty that it was there. Had he found no evidence to support his belief of a safety net, he certainly wouldn't have felt nearly as comfortable with his task. Some would reason that he therefore was not only unharmed by not investigating or being informed about his lack of net, but that his faith in the net was beneficial. That line of reasoning works from the premise that his journey across the rope was one of unconditional obligation, and that since he had to do it then it's best he be as confident, comfortable, and happy with it as possible, even if those things were born out of delusion or ignorance. More realistically, however, the man would have been under no such obligation. Had he fallen, it's likely that he would have been far more grateful for the opportunity to see that his confidence was unjustified than he would be for discovering his confidence was false after his success.
The question of whether it's best for him to know he isn't safe or believe that he is gets more complicated when the scenario shifts, and the knowledge can be shared with him or withheld from him. Should his friends who truly distrust the circus manager's shifty claims attempt to convince him to check for a net before his act, or should his friends remain silent, allowing him the comfort of his flawed beliefs? I believe that as not only a friend, but a fellow human being, if I witness people attempting something dangerous, and having their anxiety soothed by delusion, I should share my skepticism with them, and encourage them to seek truth more than comfort.
Many times, I have been accused of being evil and heartless for merely answering the question honestly when people ask me why I don't pray, or why I don't believe in god. So it isn't often that I bother to bring arguments against them doing so to them. I don't walk into churches and tell the congregation they're wasting their time, and I don't go to funerals to explain the foolishness of families taking comfort in a belief that their deceased loved ones are in an eternal paradise now. However, I do feel that it's unwise for the majority of people to strut into the prize fight of life believing that they have a divine, all-powerful, all-knowing cut man in their corners. Convincing ourselves that we're safe when in danger or that we must be right when we could be wrong is counterproductive, regardless to how comfortable our faulty beliefs make us feel.
That comfort informs our actions, and dissipates the inhibitions that otherwise may prevent us from making unwise decisions. I'd feel much more comfortable if I genuinely believed I was a billionaire, but if I did, I'd surely execute behaviors, which in reality would do me significant harm. Likewise, a man who enlists in combat believing his god will protect him, or a battered wife who prays for guidance rather than calling protective services may take comfort in their beliefs. Unfortunately for them, personal comfort doesn't substitute actual knowledge or action. It's not heartless to mention the absolute absence of the evidence that prayers to a personal god are in any way effective. It's not evil to explain the flaws in thinking of those who believe the crafter of all existence walks in lockstep with all of their personal opinions, especially when they cite that belief as evidence. It's not unreasonable to suggest that people investigate their personal safety nets for all the high ropes in their lives, or to remind them of how suspect a circus manager would be to demand they not investigate them. It isn't cruel- it's logical, and that's why, in the appropriate settings, I do it.

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