Our understanding of the world exists through beliefs. Beliefs are the mind’s way of simplifying and interpreting that which is either too complex to understand, or for which we lack sufficient evidence to know the truth. Because this covers everything, ALL of what we know of the world, is in fact, belief.
Beliefs come from personal experience, communicated beliefs, and conjecture. We believe that a dropped ball will fall to the ground because of experiences like sweeping Cheerios from our high chair as a toddler, and countless other experiences since then, we automatically believe that things fall to the ground, and would be surprised if the ball shot to the ceiling.
Communicated beliefs derive from what we are told, such as our belief in Santa Claus or our belief in stories we hear. Most will be believed, especially those from credible or repeated sources. Unfortunately, much of this is hard to verify (fake news), so it behooves us to be critical and discerning. Rumor and gossip are some of the worst things to believe, as the teller often has an agenda.
Conjecture is where we fill in the gaps. If there is a flood or a drought we might believe it was the result of climate change; or we might believe it was our punishment for being sinners. We fill in the gap without real proof. People want explanations for things, and when no explanation exists—which is often—we create our own!
Our minds go to great lengths to create consistency among our beliefs (see Leon Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance). If we believe we are respectful of others, but then behave disrespectfully to someone, we may rationalize the action by telling ourselves the other person deserved it, so it falls outside our ethic. This avoids us having to upset the belief of being respectful.
People can be so attached to their beliefs that they will die for them, as illustrated by the September 11 attacks, and more than 120 historical conflicts classified as religious wars. The tendency to hold beliefs so tenaciously is a human weakness that is answered by the virtues of humility and open-mindedness.
The willingness and ability to change our beliefs by opening our minds and overcoming our natural defensiveness can be one of our most powerful tools in personal growth and effectiveness. In the end, letting go of the attachment you have to your beliefs could be your super-power! And I believe that!
What do you believe? Do you believe in God? Do you believe in climate change? Do you believe in space aliens? Do you believe that men walked on the moon? Do you believe in conspiracies? Do you believe Friday the 13th is unlucky? Do you believe what you see on social media?