The Grandma Principle
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- What is the grandma
can express the same thought in many ways.
- Why do we use
can convert virtually any "truth" into another context.
is a "unified field theory" of life.
some people, grandma's advice is good enough.
What is the grandma
principle? It is my principle that:
- The common platitudes which are uttered by a wise old
grandmother (or grandfather) are as profound as the sophisticated
teachings of any preacher or psychologist.
- Many (if not all) of the basic concepts from religion and
psychology are reducible to statements of common knowledge. Those
basic concepts include forgiveness, detachment, compassion,
judgmentalness, love, humility, suffering, courage, balance,
acceptance, power, responsibility, patience, self-discipline,
contentment, trust, freedom, the meaning of life, etc.
- The same lessons are being taught in every realm of life.
Those realms -- religious or non-religious -- include our church,
family, friendships, job, social activities, hobbies, recreation,
etc. Thus, in matters of philosophy and spirituality, we all know
(or are learning) the same things; one person might seem to be
more knowledgeable (or "enlightened") only because of his or her
dexterity with particular jargon.
can express the same thought in many ways. For example, we all
understand the law of karma in our own words:
- Grandma: "You made your bed; now you have to sleep in it."
- Physics: "For every action, there is an opposite and equal
- Eastern religions: "Karma is the cosmic principle of
- Psychology: "Taking responsibility for our life is a sign of
- Business: "You didn't pay your electric bill, so we're turning
off your power."
- Relationships: "She dumped you because you cheated on her."
- Metaphysics: "Our thoughts and actions manifest our world."
- Parenting: "You are grounded because you lied to me."
- Modern slang: "What goes around, comes around."
Why do we use
- High-sounding phrases grant solidarity. The in-group has its
own terminology -- a secret language -- which differentiates
itself from the out-group. When we use the jargon of our group, we
assert our membership in that group.
- High-sounding phrases can conceal our lack of understanding.
We can hide behind jargon; thus, the expression, "If you can't
beat them with logic, baffle them with b.s." When we use jargon,
we can't be disputed by outsiders because they don't comprehend
our jargon well enough to debate with us -- and our fellow
professionals are not likely to blow our cover, at least not in
front of the laypersons. If we were required to speak in
down-to-earth terminology, we would realize that some of us have
nothing to say. Our jargon creates an illusion of knowledge; other
people don't know the jargon but they do know the information that
is concealed within the jargon. If those people demand, "What are
you really trying to tell me?," some of us would be embarrassed by
the quality of our advice -- its commonness and lack of substance.
- High-sounding phrases support an image of sophistication.
Grandma's lessons seem so simple, obvious, and understated that
they can be grasped by simple minds. In contrast, high-sounding
phrases allow us to appear educated, informed, and complex.
- We believe that an intellectual explanation is more precise.
In technical subjects, yes. But in explanations of human life,
intellectualism is shallow and one-dimensional and thus imprecise
(because it ignores many factors of our multi-dimensional human
life). Grandma's platitudes can be more effective because they
transmit information in a variety of modes simultaneously --
through our visual imagination (e.g., "it's water under the
bridge"), our other senses (e.g., "there's no free lunch"), our
feelings and emotions (as stimulated by the visual images, verbal
associations to common human experiences, and by grandma's own
loving presence), and other functions of "the heart" and of the
brain's right hemisphere, so that we sense the deeper significance
of her words.
- We believe that the high-sounding phrases express a higher
understanding. In most explanations regarding philosophy,
religion, and human situations, high-sounding phrases are not
expressions of "higher consciousness" or "higher truth"; they are
simply another way in which to say something that everyone else is
saying. When seeking someone to tell us the truth about life, we
do not have to seek counselors and role models on the basis of
their intellectual sophistication; perhaps our best counselors and
role models are simply the people who are most balanced, active,
and happy. By observing them, we learn that "spirit" is not a
religious commodity, but that it is simply "life" -- the life that
permeates all experiences, including the mundane. These people
breathe that life into all that they do, in the natural course of
their daily actions, sparking us with their fun and their vigor
and their unpretentious, endearing soulfulness. Indeed, if we
cannot express a spiritual truth in common terminology and regular
activity, we don't truly understand it; it is merely a group of
words which we have collected.
We can convert virtually any
"truth" into another context. Try to convert the following statements
into one of the preceding contexts (or into a different culture,
subculture, profession, or religion): Easy come, easy go. Show me the
money. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. You can't go out to play
until you clean your room. Let bygones be bygones. Whatever doesn't
kill me makes me stronger. Stuff happens. Don't let it go to your
head. The more things change, the more they stay the same. No guts,
This is a
"unified field theory" of life. When we use the Grandma principle, we
are not awed by religious teachings -- the words themselves, or the
book in which they are printed, or the person who spoke them.
Instead, we realize that religious concepts are merely thoughts which
are to be implanted into our a-fields, to be tested as to their
ability to facilitate the flow of life-substance. We go to religion
not because it holds truths which are unavailable in day-to-day
living; instead, we go there only if religion's particular way of
expressing these common truths is effective in our personal
archetypal fields. This "unified field theory" of life says that we
are all doing the same thing: whether or not we are "religious," we
are all working to come to terms with the same archetypal situations
of life. We do not need religion at all except as a provider of
religious terminology and religious conceptual models for people who
prefer to approach the archetypes within a specifically religious
some people, grandma's advice is good enough. Generally these people
are lively, cheerful, and successful. Grandma gives plain
explanations; since we respect and love grandma, and we see that her
life works, we accept what she says. And that settles it; we apply
the idea to our life "without missing a beat." We know that life is
to be lived, not dissected, so we eagerly seek and intuitively grasp
the profound truth behind the ordinary words without
intellectualizing and rationalizing. And we go on our way, enriched
and inspired by a mere platitude.