The Art of Decolonizing the Mind

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Photo by Debashis Biswas on Unsplash

None of us is born loving mac and cheese or triple-decker hamburgers. None of us is born hankering for satin sheets or 400 horsepower automobiles. It remains an open question whether or not kids have to be “carefully taught to hate,” but it’s not debatable that the specificity of our desire is manufactured by our surroundings.

Fat, salt, and sugar we are born to like; what objects we choose to deliver these to us is cultural.

All of us have minds that have been colonized. Colonized by invasive powers, from branding to nationalism to religion. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to decolonize the mind. And if that is even possible.

Ideally, religions and philosophies aid each of us in developing and maintaining a complex inner-life and a set of standards for outward behavior. Part of that complexity is developing the skills to question what at first appear to be unconquerable desires and aversions, both personal and cultural.

We each have an inner life. The question is how nurturing to ourselves that inner life is, and how conducive to social cooperation.

I remember visiting a small chapel in a tiny Mexican village. In the 1540s in this remote outpost of Empire, the people — Nahuas — had been forced to build a chapel, complete with carvings of Christian apostles and angels. In the carvings, the apostles and angels were dressed like the conquistadors who forced the building of the chapel.

Those soldiers and priests had sought to overawe the locals with their grand cosmic mythology. What they got instead were images of their oppressive, deluded selves cut into stone.

Each of us has a colonized mind. Taking a deep look at the colonizers and the colonized isn’t easy. But it is necessary.

Several hundred feet from that, chapel, the people had built a tiny alter to corn.

Written by

Poet, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregation. Amazon author's page amazon.com/author/davidbreeden

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