Learning to Detach

If there is one thing that persistently interferes in all relationships, both within business and our private lives, that constantly gets in the way of finding creative solutions to our problems and opportunities to progress in all manner of ways, it is the attachment we have to our own opinions. It is something I am trying to give up, but it is not that easy.

As someone who genuinely does, at least try to appreciate different viewpoints, I am often slow to come to a conclusion about many things. This, I think, is part of the problem. By the time my opinion has solidified regarding some matter that I may deem to be important, I have generally also considered various other popular perspectives on the issue and come to my own decision. If someone brings up such a topic in conversation, I sometimes find myself drawn in to pointing out possibilities they may not have considered.

It is not unusual for me to hold a minority opinion and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I also don’t think it is wrong to have a different opinion to someone else and I think everyone’s opinion deserves respect. But frequently, in conversation, it seems that people are not as interested in exploring a topic so much as defending their own position; and, despite what I have said, I am gradually coming to the awareness that exactly the same is true of me.

Who am I to think that another person may not have considered all the same possibilities before reaching their conclusion and who am I to think that my own opinion is better formed? That is the personal development lesson that I have been trying to embrace most recently. The answer is in the principle of detachment: that all opinions and views are valid to some extent and so it is unwise to be too rigidly attached to any of them.

Even in coming to the above conclusion, I can foresee a possible difficulty. I can easily imagine some future discussion in which I might be asked to explain to my friends, perhaps at a dinner party, why I hold no fixed view on the topic being discussed, assuming I can actually manage it, of course. Then, as I attempt to explain the principle of detachment, someone else challenges my opinion on the principle of detachment itself, and tells me that it is a good thing to have an opinion on whatever it is that is being discussed ;).

Well, I guess I will have to come up with a strategy to deal with the challenge should it ever occur, but I am, more and more, becoming convinced that by holding all possible opinions, and simultaneously holding no opinion, I can liberate myself from the burden of defending the personal views I hold and, in the process, might save a lot of energy that could be better directed.

There was an occasion that I remember someone saying that she would never forgive the Germans for what they did in the war. Foolishly, I engaged in that conversation pointing out that the German nation had done its level best, since the war, to make amends for its past and that perhaps the time had come to forgive. The result was quite a heated conversation in which both parties exchanged frank views and neither party was persuaded that the other might have a point.

On another occasion, I can remember someone becoming quite angry that, in response to their story of a friend whose pay had been cut by her employer, I said that she should get another job. He said that this person had no choices or options available and I said that there were always choices and if the person really had no options, then the pay the employer was paying was her market worth. It may sound harsh, but it represents my view about how economies are driven by market forces. Again the atmosphere was somewhat charged and neither person appreciated the opposite point.

One final example: I remember someone expressing an opinion to the effect that science had basically disproved the Bible. Again, foolishly, I felt it was my place to point out the error in that thinking. I can’t remember exactly how the discussion went, but my contribution was around my view that it is perfectly possible to come to a synthesis between the Biblical and scientific views (see Genesis & Spacetime) of how we come to be here. Again, neither party was persuaded that the other had a valid point.

Now, I don’t want you to get the impression that I am always going around looking to people to argue with, but these are the kind of fruitless conversations I am seeking to avoid in the future. They are both meaningless and pointless. As I said, I am sure it will be a lot easier said than done, but developing more of a detached position, even on the most contentious issues, perhaps most importantly, is something I intend to practice.

8 thoughts on “Learning to Detach

  1. Will Edwards

    Hi Delton

    Thanks for your comment. I think your strategy is interesting and it is certainly something I will think about. With regard to the Bible though, I so think interpretation is absolutely key. Remember when Jesus tells people to cut off their hand or pluck out their eyes, for example. Do you think he meant that directive to be taken literally? Personally, I don’t think so.

    Best wishes,

    Will 🙂

  2. Delton

    Hi Will,
    I am a very opinionated person and believe my opinions are always
    the right opinion to have but rather than to get into an argument, I
    will usually ask the person with a different opinion how he/she came
    to that conclusion. I find it easier to counter the means that the
    conclusion.

    As for opinions of the Bible I don’t believe there is room for different
    opinions. The Bible is written to mean what it says and we have to
    decide whether we want to believe it or not. If we believe a part
    and not the whole we may as well discard it all.

  3. Will Edwards

    Hi Linda

    I love the way you put that; being ‘less attached to the need to be right than to your actual opinions’. Very well put. I think this could be a key to moving forward.

    Thank you for posting.

    Will 🙂

  4. Linda

    Hi Will,
    I enjoyed reading your post on detachment. Perhaps the idea is to become less attached to the need to be right than to your actual opinions. This is something I too have been working on, and it has allowed me to hold better discussions with people. Also, I have found when talking with others, I will often express views that differ from theirs by using words like “perhaps” or “I wonder if” or “what if” to soften a directly opposing view. It works wonders and only asks the other to think rather than opposing them. I do the same thing to myself as well when I find a very strong opinion that I hold. Keeping the goal in mind to simply develop more understanding, not to convince myself or another has worked wonders.

    Thank you for bringing up such an important topic. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Sincerely,

    Linda McPharlin

  5. Naresh

    The Bhagwad Gita also says the same. Krishna tells Arjun, do your duty, but do it with a sense of detachment, so that the result does not affect you in any way! If this goes for your work, why not for views and opinion?

  6. Morgan

    Living a detached life denies spirituality. What is Spirituality ? It is synonymous to living a positive life. In Spirituality, every action as well as every word that you pronounce and every thought that runs through your mind must be positive, so that you lead a better life. When we have a positive way of thinking, we have no right to make a mistake and we will never let our self succumb to any temptation. We must have the will to do good and this will shall drive away all forms of negativity.

    I feel the world around me and I can’t really explain what I feel – there is more than we can see and there is some kind of order or meaning that we can not understand. I don’t really think too much about whether things are right or wrong- they just feel one or the other and I can’t do things that don’t feel right. I have trouble expressing intangible things so I usually avoid this topic 🙂 but I feel everything very deeply- yet I practice nothing. I feel everything so deeply- I wailed like a baby for over a week when the tsunami hit Japan and I tried to feel the pain of the survivors on TV but I can’t empathize no matter how hard I try- I felt something though – it was as if the world was just gone – I still feel it every time I think of Japan.

  7. Will Edwards

    Hi Vivian

    Buddhism has a lot going for it I think. It was studying what it is to be human long before psychology ever came along and has made a lot of valid observations.

    With regard to your comment on being ‘attached to the ideal of being “detached” ‘, I think you have a good point. I made a similar one here …

    “Then, as I attempt to explain the principle of detachment, someone else challenges my opinion on the principle of detachment itself, and tells me that it is a good thing to have an opinion on whatever it is that is being discussed.”

    Thanks for dropping by.

    Will 🙂

  8. Vivian So

    I used to believe in buddhism or Zen. I am now a Christian but I always honored what was being taught about detachment and it is one of the few things that are very difficult.

    It almost when we try to hard to be detached, we become attached to the ideal of being “detached.” Do you agree?

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