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The Grandma Principle

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  1. What is the grandma principle?
  2. We can express the same thought in many ways. 
  3. Why do we use high-sounding phrases? 
  4. We can convert virtually any "truth" into another context. 
  5. This is a "unified field theory" of life.  
  6. For some people, grandma's advice is good enough.

What is the grandma principle? It is my principle that:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

We can express the same thought in many ways. For example, we all understand the law of karma in our own words:

  1. Grandma: "You made your bed; now you have to sleep in it."
  2. Physics: "For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction."
  3. Eastern religions: "Karma is the cosmic principle of cause-and-effect."
  4. Psychology: "Taking responsibility for our life is a sign of psychological maturity."
  5. Business: "You didn't pay your electric bill, so we're turning off your power."
  6. Relationships: "She dumped you because you cheated on her."
  7. Metaphysics: "Our thoughts and actions manifest our world."
  8. Parenting: "You are grounded because you lied to me."
  9. Modern slang: "What goes around, comes around."

Why do we use high-sounding phrases?  

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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, no gain.

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 context.

For 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.

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