A Sound And Beautiful Mind

In the book (and its film adaptation) A Beautiful Mind, a great deal of attention is paid to the seeming incongruity of a mind that is gifted in mathematical reasoning with a facility for elegant proofs and a simultaneous high burden of mental illness that left the brilliant mathematician unable to fully enjoy the fruits of his tormented genius. In yet another sermon (in this case, a split sermon) that held a great deal of personal relevance, the man who spoke earlier on our duties as an ambassador of the Kingdom of Heaven [1] gave a message on three threats to a sound mind. Given the sensible working assumption that most people want to live their lives with a sound mind and not a spirit of fear, as imperfectly as this ideal may be realized in our lives, it is worthwhile to reflect on the threats that exist to such a state, of which the speaker identified three with a cliche.

The first of those threats, designated by the cliche of information theory known as: “Garbage in, garbage out,” refers to the fact that the soundness of our reasoning is often imperiled by the fact that we are working with incomplete and often bad information. In order to judge a person or a situation correctly, we need to be working with the correct information, as if we listen to biased accounts, hearsay, and malicious assumptions and presumptions, we will end up behaving unjustly and judging unrighteously. To the extent that we wish to avoid this, we must seek good information, accurate information, and our thought processes and judgment must have a realization of bias and a graciousness towards others built-in. A sound mind, after all, does not exist on its own, but rather exists in the context of operating on what is around us, allowing us to think and behave appropriately, which requires an accurate knowledge of what we have to work with, and enough kindness and graciousness to overlook offenses and to deal with them with kindness.

The second of those threats was designated with the cliche, “Life’s not fair.” Among the most powerful threats to a sound mind is the bitterness that results from injustice. Our expectations that we will be treated with friendliness and kindness, as well as basic fairness and justice, are not often realized. Often our lives are filled with layer upon layer of injustice, from early abuse that causes a great deal of trauma and damage and hinders certain aspects of our personality and capacity for trust and comfort with the repercussions that result from being skittish and skeptical and prone to high amounts of anxiety and depression which often lead to later acts of injustice by those who cannot understand or will not act in a gracious and compassionate manner to people with obvious quirks and eccentricities. As we tend to remember the offenses and injustices committed against us far more than we reflect on and meditate over the benefits in life we have unjustly received, we all tend to operate with somewhat biased records that demonstrate the debts that we are owed by society or by those families and institutions we have been a part of, something which contributes in no small measure to the tensions we feel with spouses, parents, children, siblings, brethren, neighbors, and others. To know that we should let go of resentment and hostility and to act with love and grace towards others as God has been loving and gracious to us is not to feel or to act gracious–often we must act kindly and graciously long before we ever feel kindness or graciousness towards others who have offended or hurt us, even as they often feel act according to the same sort of unkindness or ungraciousness to us for our real or imagined offenses against them and other people.

The third threat to a sound mind is, naturally, related to the other two, and was designated by the speaker with the question, “Is the glass half empty of half full?” The answer, of course, is that it is both. A great deal of our lives relates to matters of attitude, and insofar as a great deal of the difficulties we deal with in terms of our lives consists of trying to work with other people, the reality that people have in their minds is the reality that must be dealt with in our interactions with them, even if that reality is deeply biased and built on false premises. There are often times in life where either a bias towards optimism or a bias towards pessimism, and I must admit that I myself am fairly strongly biased towards a grim and fatalistic pessimism in my own life, can create or exacerbate problems for us. Often to judge a person or situation correctly, for we feel compelled to judge such matters despite the fact that we often do not judge justly, kindly, or accurately, we must be aware of the context of the person or situation that we are judging, and must often admit that there are several standards and perspectives that must be dealt with simultaneously. It might be necessary, to use an example not at random, to judge the behavior of a person we may not like that much against the absolute standard of right and wrong that is a part of our shared belief system, by the relative scale of how that person differs from other people of the same categories, and by a scale that points to how well (or poorly) the person is behaving based on the material of personal experience of burdens in life that the person is dealing with, and to not judge others by our own personal sensitivities and biases to the greatest degree possible by fully owning up to them and seeking to see someone in a reasonable light despite them. That this is a difficult task does not make it any less important.

What is the takeaway of all of this, so that we can apply sound reasoning to our lives? After all, we do not merely want a mind and thinking processes that are immensely skilled in some areas of life but that bring us a great deal of torment and suffering that threaten our happiness and the success of our relationships with others. Neither do we want a mind that is sound in theory but that does not practice well. What we desire is a mind that acts soundly the materials around us in terms of situations and relationships with the people in our families, our workplaces, our congregations, our neighborhoods and communities, and so on. We therefore have to understand the threats that exist to sound reasoning and execution and to develop capabilities to reason and act in a way that is helpful to others and beneficial to ourselves, especially if these are matters of consistent difficulty in our lives. We therefore must seek the best information, even if others behave towards us based on inaccurate and hostile information. We must judge fairly and justly, even if others are unjust towards us. We must maintain a good attitude and a perspective that is as balanced as possible and as kind towards others, even if others are unkind towards us and have a flawed and biased perspective about us. We may never, in this life, see that life is fair, but if we are just and kind ourselves, we can at least set an example for others to follow as they are called and prompted to do so by our Heavenly Father above according to the model of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Sound And Beautiful Mind

  1. Pingback: A Review Of The 2015 Feast Of Tabernacles In Steamboat Springs, Colorado | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  3. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Course: Great Masters: Beethoven–His Life And Music | Edge Induced Cohesion

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