I was recently at a dinner party with a group of friends and I found myself enthusiastically participating in a heated discussion of local civic politics.
I was beginning to feel that sense of frustration – you know the kind we’re all familiar with when talking to a less than bright person who lacks the intellect to know that you’re right and they’re wrong – when it occurred to me that I would realize a higher learning if I took myself out of the conversation and sat on the sidelines as an observer.
I felt like a spectator at a tennis match as my head turned from side to side following the volley of back and forth arguments. The conversation soon became more and more heated, the language more and more colourful and the arguments more and more personal. What was most fascinating was that each “point” in the debate was presented as an absolute, irrefutable statement of “fact.”
Here’s why this type of discussion is so interesting. Each of us had access to exactly the same information – in this case a widely reported decision made by our city council to implement some policy or other and yet no two people seemed able to reach any level of agreement.
How is this possible that we can all have the same information and arrive at vastly different conclusions? That we can be confronted with exactly the same evidence and make vastly different decisions?
The answer is simple and yet difficult for many of us to wrap our heads around. This is what happens;
1. We are presented with information.
2. We disseminate that information by running it through a series of filters we have developed from all of our life’s experiences.
3. We reach a conclusion which we call an opinion or a belief.
4. As it is now our opinion/belief, it must be true.
5. As it is the truth, it must be a fact and, therefore, correct.
A wise teacher once told me that outside of physiology and biochemistry the only things that separate you from me, that makes us each uniquely different are those beliefs we each have about what is right or wrong, moral or immoral, possible or impossible or whether pasta is more fattening than chocolate.
And yet it is our beliefs that shape us. It is what we believe that determines what we do and ultimately predicts the quality of our lives.
We go to war over our beliefs, commit atrocities over our beliefs, volunteer our time over our beliefs, choose our careers over our beliefs, enter relationships, end relationships, buy cars, buy houses, make business decisions, go to school – I think you get the point.
So if our beliefs play such a vital role in governing our lives, how did we get them? What exactly is a belief?
A belief is no more than the meaning or interpretation we choose to place on the events in our lives or on real or imagined information that we become aware of.
More on that later.
Till we read again.