What We Believe Can Make Us Blind
September 13, 2011
Does what we believe make us more vulnerable to belief?
I’m not talking about religion, necessarily, though that is a dominant belief for most people. It is not religion, but what we believe about religion; what we believe about ourselves within that religion, that political alignment, that career path: it is the beliefs we hold that cause problems.
Man is a myth maker. I’ve talked about that / with denialism / that we survive by denying what we don’t want to accept. Similarly, we live by creating a myth of ourselves that we live within.
An example: years ago I discovered backpacking. I felt so alive in the forests. I was filled with joy. It was outside my previous experience, and I thought I’d found the ‘true me’ in nature.
Shortly thereafter I took a career assessment test. Of course, I marked everything that reflected the outdoors as highly positive. And, of course, the test results showed I should be in forestry, or landscaping, or some other nature/outdoor career.
I would have been miserable. I do not like *having* to be out and about in all weathers. I do love curling up with a good book and a cup of hot tea and reveling in the comforts (luxuries beyond price by global standards) of my home.
I had let a new-found belief about myself override what (little) I truly knew about myself. Almost let it override. My new belief about myself had skewed the results.
If you see yourself as a person who is reasonable, flexible, open-minded; if that is your personal myth, how can you see that you can also be stubborn as a pig?
If you see yourself as compassionate, kind, generous; how can you admit you are also selfish?
If you see yourself as a devoted parent, how can you recognize and accept the normal frustrations of child rearing?
The only way to avoid self-manipulation into belief-induced blindness is always to be examining not just your words, but your actions, your choices, and ultimately your beliefs. (see also on / what it should mean to be a skeptic / ) (no, don’t run. Being a skeptic, like being religious, is an umbrella term covering an entire spectrum of possibilities. Because a few loonies hijack a term doesn’t make it lose its credibility).
Ask yourself about your beliefs. Ask why you see yourself in this way and not that. Don’t try to rationalize. Instead, explore your beliefs, without judgment, and as much as possible without a predetermined goal in mind.
If you are a religious person — why? Admit, first off, that the religion you follow is almost certainly entirely due to what you were raised to believe. No, that doesn’t belittle your belief. It does allow you to step back and look at what you were taught about belief. Are those facets of religion truly what you think worthwhile, or are they habits?
Out of that examination, you can forge a belief centered in what you value, not what generations past, or other people tell you is true. Beliefs are personal. Accept that, and accept how what you believe reflects who you truly are. Use your beliefs as a key to unlock who you truly are, then work back and tailor those beliefs to express your truth, not obscure it.
This is crucial when we turn back to the first question of this post. What you believe you are is how you will act, and what you will say to others. It becomes your face to the world, and your filter for the world. Everything you see and hear and read is interpreted through the prism of that belief. New ideas, new beliefs will be admitted or denied based on how they reinforce your beliefs.
Ironically, the more rigid your belief, the more likely you are to act in opposition to it. The most fundamentalist religious people do the most evil acts. If you believe yourself to be a pure scientist, motivated only be provable reason, your own moods; your own need to demonstrate pure rationality will make you act without reason. It might manifest as scurrilous attacks on those who admit to belief, it might be that you adopt a cult, or even quack medicine like homeopathy or anti-vaccination. You will twist evidence, claim validity, and deny proof with the same logic you employ to deny every other shady claim. And you won’t recognize you are doing it because you can’t admit that you, too, live by beliefs in your world and in yourself. Your beliefs blind you to who you are and to what you are doing.
If you believe you are an artist, set apart from crass and common humanity, everything you see will be bent to reinforce that belief about yourself. How then do you honestly respond to both the beauty and ugliness of life? More importantly, how do you convey truth to your audience?
If you believe that only those who agree with you can be right, what happens to new ideas? How tolerant, how fair will you be to those who think differently?
But, if you accept that your beliefs are a nebula around your core, that they can shift and change with new ideas, new information, then you have the flexibility to be truly compassionate, truly tolerant, truly wise.