As the sentence of the Books of Bokonon states: "All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies." Recently I was reminded of Bokononism, which I first experienced in high school. Bokononism is a religion that was created by a character in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s book Cat's Cradle. In the book, a man named Johnson was shipwrecked on a fictional Caribbean island. In the island's local language, Johnson was pronounced Bokonon. Seeing the state of the people, Bokonon and his fellow shipwreckee decided to take over and make everyone's better, and to do so they created Bokononism. The basis of which is the premise that Bokononism (and it's texts) are formed entirely of lies, but if you through belief and adherence to these lies, you can be happy.
One of my longstanding statements is that Truth (with a capital T) is absolutely unknowable, and not only is it unknowable, but it is absolutely useless. My truth, what is real to me, could be very different from what is real to you. If there is an absolute reality, knowing it is impossible, and can not benefit my life in any way. It is through seeking my own truth that I find my path. I think this could very easily be translated into Bokononism's concept of foma- harmless untruths.
"Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." One of the reasons Bokonon based his religion on lies was that the truth that was apparent on the island when he landed was horrible. The people were starving and poor, and all they could see around them was misery. By building up this religion of lies, he gave them hope. Picking and choosing your lies is a very tricky thing. Looking back at the concept of foma, it's not just about lies.
Harmless untruths could be considered white lies. We live in a society where many people prefer to be told little white lies than be told the truth. People don't want to be told they are overweight, that they don't have model looks or that they aren't wealthy. Deep inside they know the reality of these things, and yet with a few foma, things aren't quite the same.
I think that one of the key attributes people forget when thinking of foma is 'healthy'. Live by the foma that make you healthy. I am not a slender model. By the scale (which I don't even own), I need to drop quite a few pounds to be in the healthy range. But when I think of myself I don't think obese. My foma is not that I think I am skinny, but that I live like I am skinny. Think of it a bit like 'fake it until you make it'. I might not be a dancer anymore, but I still dance.
Bokononism has quite a cache of unique terms. Zah-mah-ki-bo is inevitable destiny. I think that a lot of Bokononism revolves around this concept. Not in the sense of having no control of your life, but rather that there are currents in your life that lead you places. You might have the choice of how you get to those places, but sometimes you will notice that you seem to be drifting in a particular way. Maybe you wanted to be an artist all your life, but every time you work to pursue your goal, you get nudged in another direction. Now, of course, this doesn't mean you can't be an artist, but it is very worth while to see where the winds of your life are leading you. Maybe there are things you need to do first that will make your artistic life even better.
Human beings want to understand. We want to quantify things. We want to be able to point a finger and say, "there! that is the reason for all this stuff that is going on." We don't like feeling helpless. We want to feel like we are advanced and that we have evolved to a point where we can control the world around us. We want to feel superior.
And so we fight our zah-mah-ki-bo. We stubbornly beat ourselves against the same dead end, trying the same failing strategies to get through the brick wall. We are blinded by what we see as truth and can't use our foma to create a door through to the other side. It's not a matter of thinking outside the box but one of realizing that the box is just walls we made up to protect ourselves from the chaos that is life.
The best and most powerful thing about foma is they are mutable. I can change my foma as needed. I create the world I want to live in by believing in it, not by trying to find a way to live with the cards that are dealt to me. A Bokononist who is about to commit suicide says, "Now I will destroy the whole world." And in a very real sense they are. When I die, the whole world will die with me....or at least that will be my perspective, and ultimately that is the only reality there is.