“We all deceive ourselves, when we want to believe… False light can only lead us deeper into darkness.”
– Aemon Targaryen, A Feast for Crows
A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
This quote is technically two of them, but both said by the same person in rapid succession, and dealing with the same subject, so, I’m counting them as one. 😉
Aemon Targaryen, or Maester Aemon, as he’s primarily called, is a very wise, and very old (thus the wisdom), man. He has spent his long lifetime in service, learning, and gaining experience. Yet, as his time draws to its final conclusion, he wishes only that he could be of greater use at this pivotal moment in history. Alas, his time is done, and he can’t help but contemplate some mistakes he has made, specifically some hopes he allowed himself to misplace, just a little.
The first part of this quote is a reference to himself, to that mistake. But he’s certainly not the only one. A number of characters in this story do that.
He mentions, specifically, a woman who is rather famous among the fans of the book for how mistaken she has been, so badly and so many times. If Aemon allowed himself a small, brief hope in the wrong thing to flash before his old, blind eyes, then she has built up a mighty bonfire of such. It’s easy to judge such fanatics as she, but it didn’t hit me until Aemon said this that I realized that she may simply be wanting to believe so badly – far, far too badly – that she has gone to extremes and done terrible things, great and small. That’s a whole other laundry list of ill deeds for another day, but in short, she’s done her best to paint a shiny, glowing picture of things that people will believe, but, in the end, as close as it may come to the truth, it’s still a falsehood, supported by her tricks and lies.
She claims to see the light in the darkness, but it’s her own pale light that she follows, and leads others to follow down the wrong path, away from the light of the sun, where there is only more darkness, even more consuming for the meager, hollow light they sacrifice to preserve.
All because she wants to believe, to the point where she deceives even herself.
The lesson here is that it’s okay to have doubts and ask honest questions. It’s all right to take your time and keep calm instead of being caught up in fervor. It’s fine to test the light that you follow and discover its source. Indeed, one may say, that is what we should do.
Honest belief requires open eyes.
If it’s genuine, then it can withstand a bit of scrutiny.