What You and Augustine Have in Common

I think about a lot of things when I think about the word “indoctrination,” but I don’t really ever think of myself as an indoctrinator. I am in the pursuit of truth! Of reason! Of other opposites of indoctrination! I do not indoctrinate. Indoctrination is left for people who don’t agree with me.

There’s this really cool psychologist – Albert Ellis. He was a bit eccentric, but he has perhaps the most humanistic and realistic of the personality theories. Ellis believed that we weren’t a passive victim of the things that happen to us. He thought that we indoctrinate ourselves – that we latch on to ideas and then present those ideas to ourselves as fact when, in reality, these “facts” are nothing more than irrational beliefs.

For example, when we say things like “I’m stupid” to ourselves, we are practicing indoctrination. It’s not factually true that we are stupid; it’s a belief. And we can change beliefs. But we rarely do because this kind of self-talk is indoctrinated.

Ellis believed that unwanted emotions were simply irrational beliefs. Who decides that you are unhappy? There is no objective unhappiness machine that calculates good and bad events in your life and pops out an unhappiness quotient. We decide that we are unhappy so much so that when someone asks us how we are doing, we think we are lying if we don’t tell the questioner that we are, in fact, unhappy. But you can’t lie about something that isn’t true, and unhappiness is never a truth.

Ellis also believed that we are slaves to false “musts.” There really aren’t that many “musts” in the world. But we think there are billions. We must be successful. Everyone must play fair and nice or else must be punished. The world must give us what we want when we want. These are all false false false.

So stop thinking about what you think you must do or must happen and start thinking about what you want to do. And indoctrinate yourself with those thoughts.

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