When I first started reading What If?, I got quite irritated (as the author warns that you will). I sat it down for a while and then came back to it. I’m glad I did. Eldon Taylor argues for and against some of our most ingrained personal beliefs – such as capital punishment, abortion, and taxes. He takes us through “thought experiments” – some real and some imagined – to bring us to question what we think to be true. Then he follows each thought experiment with tough, thought-provoking questions.
One of the most thought-provoking questions for me was, “If this were true, would you behave any differently?” To put it into perspective, one example where this question was asked was in the discussion of the existence of an afterlife. Taylor gives several different sides of the afterlife debate, and at the end of each he asks if you would behave any differently if that particular belief was true.
What Taylor does so well is to show that there really is no certainty in the beliefs that we hold. A belief we may cling to for years can one day be completely obliterated in favor of a new belief based on knowledge we have gained. Taylor goes through much of why we believe what we believe and the manipulation that takes place in order to get us to believe one way or another. He suggests that, rather than ever taking someone’s word for something, we investigate it ourselves and come to our own conclusion based on the facts, not propaganda. I have seen this in my own life. Just in the last seven years my life has changed dramatically – mostly from personal experience and exposure to things I thought I understood but did not. My beliefs are unrecognizable in comparison to the beliefs I held seven years ago.
What If? is a challenging book, and one that will leave many of us feeling unsettled – in a good way. Through the emotions that Taylor’s questioning evokes, we learn where we hold rigid beliefs and in turn where to begin to open our mind to other possibilities. Taylor doesn’t give answers to the questions he posits, though he does offer some personal opinions in some of the scenarios. His purpose for writing What If? is to get us to answer the questions for ourselves so we can better understand who we are and why. Many of us are mindlessly walking through life as followers and never quite understand the underlying reasons why we believe what we do. If we were challenged on our beliefs, many of us would be hard-pressed to come up with a fact-based, non-emotional response to our challenger. What If? is a great way to start on the journey towards self-awareness so that we can better understand ourselves, speak confidently about what we believe and why we believe it, and take action based on those beliefs rather than standing on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do it.
One last question from Taylor to leave you with: “What was your last truly original thought?”