Let’s talk about beliefs today—the ones that are so deep it doesn’t even occur to us to question them—and about what happens when they turn out to be wrong.
We all have them. We build them in order to have the world make sense to us so we can navigate through it with some sense of security and make reasonable decisions about how to reach our goals. If we didn’t have a set of core beliefs, the world would seem overwhelming and unpredictable. We’d be lost in a frightening and incomprehensible chaos.
We aren’t born with beliefs. We acquire them through a kind of social osmosis from our families, teachers, cultures, media and peers. And while they have deep roots, they’re also somewhat fluid, changing with our experiences in the world.
Still, they’re so much a part of us, that we identify with them. We prefer to be with people whose beliefs are in harmony with our own. We tend to be judgmental of those whose beliefs contradict our own, labeling them, at best, as misinformed. Depending how different their beliefs are from our own, we may even think those who hold them are stupid, evil, or demonic. When someone questions or attacks one of our beliefs, we tend to take it personally and rise to defend ourselves as if our beliefs were who we are.
But they’re not. We’re the “I” that does the believing. The beliefs themselves are simply ideas that we have adopted as good descriptions of the way reality is and how it works, or should.
That’s important to keep in mind. You don’t disappear when your beliefs change. You simply operate from a new perspective.
I wanted to bring this up this week because my personal reading of current events leads me to suspect that in the very near future many of us will find ourselves stunned by what will unfold. I think we’re entering a very dangerous time. Many of us may find firmly held beliefs destroyed. If you’re one of them, remember you are not your beliefs. You’re simply a human being who is getting a new perspective.
You may feel shaken, disillusioned, or even betrayed. That’s because we identify so closely with our interpretations of the world. When a belief is shattered, it’s as if a part of ourselves has been destroyed. We can go through the whole range of stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance. That’s okay. Let it be. Just know that you’ll come through it and adapt to the changed reality in which you find yourself. We are, after all, resilient and creative beings.
At one time or another, most of us find ourselves in a situation that challenges our beliefs. It could be a crisis of religious faith, or discovering that a close friend or a partner has betrayed you. An accident or natural catastrophe could wipe out a home or business you assumed would always be there. You could suddenly lose a loved one you expected to have in your life forever. Your career could suddenly be upended. Life is an uncertain place. We believe it’s one way, and it turns out to be something else altogether.
You know that quote collection I told you about? Well, I have a couple that apply here. The Dalai Lama says, “Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.” Know what really matters to you and find a way to translate that into your changed world. Who do you want to be in the face of this new reality? Let that vision guide you.
Author Edward Abbey says, “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” Finding out first hand why they say “Ignorance is bliss” may not be pleasant. But, be honest with yourself, wouldn’t you rather know the truth than live in a lie?
Truth, sometimes, is bitter medicine to swallow. But it’s the elixir that frees us to see past the walls of illusion into a broader, more light-filled world.