Updated: Aug 23, 2020
When we started our life as a baby, everything was 'possible'. Gradually as we grew up, we were told by our parents/teachers/peers that certain things were not possible. The more we grew up, the more things became unreachable. We started forming beliefs based on what we were told to believe and what we learned from our parents / teachers / family / etc. After all, they were grown ups and they knew. Not only that, we got into trouble if we did not believe what we were told to. Rather than inquire, it was just so much easier to believe the same thing and be accepted as the "good child". We loved being a 'good child'. Gradually, we stopped looking and joined the rest of the group. We then started living life according to those beliefs and life became 'predictable'. Life was easy when it was predictable. We had everything planned out. Surely there would be no more uncertainty. However, when life did not turn out the way we 'predicted', we felt stressed or threatened. To make us comfortable, we gave ourselves excuses as to why something did not work (something beyond our control e.g circumstances, etc) and we then started believing them as well. Rarely did we inquire within as to reasons why something did not work. Was there a lesson to be learned?
So, what are beliefs. Why have them? Do they serve any purpose? Are they good or bad?
English dictionary defines 'belief' as
- an acceptance that something exists or is true, "especially one without proof"
- something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion
- trust, faith, or confidence in (someone or something)
Beliefs are not truths. Beliefs are our 'logical explanation' or 'opinion' of the truth at any given time. Because beliefs are opinions, they cannot have proof and we can change our beliefs.
Beliefs are generally formed either through our life experiences (based on the knowledge we currently have) or are given to us by family / friends especially during our formative years.
Remember, we do not need to believe something we already know as a truth. e.g we already know that there is not only light but light of different colours. Therefore, do we need to believe in light or colours? Of course not. We already 'know'. It is a truth to us. A blind person does not know this truth, so he/she has to 'believe' that there is light and that there are colours. A blind person will not 'know' that there is light until he 'sees' the light. This is important distinction both literally and metaphorically.
Why have beliefs?
We need beliefs to function in this world. Beliefs are our effort to explain or define something that is basically undefinable - our life, our existence, our motivations/desires, etc. Having beliefs allows us to explain a small section of a huge jijsaw puzzle - our existence in this universe. It is perfectly ok to have beliefs as long as we are willing to review our beliefs when new information comes to light - these "open beliefs" are the trait of a scientific / inquiring / open mind.
I categorize beliefs into 2 mutually exclusive types:
Open Beliefs: are generally weakly held opinions and are open for modification as new information comes to light. This allows us to grow our understanding of not only the world around us but, more importantly, allows us to understand ourselves - why we do what we do, etc. As mentioned above, open beliefs are the trait of a scientific / inquiring / open mind. Open beliefs work through our conscious mind.
Closed Beliefs: are accepted as they are - a result of blindly following a certain opinion without consciously understanding the basis of holding such an opinion. These generally are not open for discussion or inquiry. These beliefs usually generate lasting behavioural changes and anxieties especially if we try to inquire within or challenge the belief. Sometimes there is a secondary gain in holding these beliefs e.g being accepted as part of a group. The more strongly held a belief is, the more closed it becomes. If we strongly believe something, we basically stop trying to find the truth that may change our beliefs. Closed beliefs generally work through our subconscious mind.
How should we address our beliefs?
Assess your belief first. Is your belief 'yours' or perhaps someone else's opinion that you have accepted as is? Does the belief resonate with you? Do you get 'gut feelings' which run contrary to your beliefs?
Believe what best resonates with you at any particular point in time. Keep an open / inquiring mind, be open to change your opinion as you learn something new.
This applies in all areas of our life, including our health. If I "believe" that the cause of my xyz disease is such and such, I will not entertain any ideas that may be contrary to my beliefs. This stops us from inquiring further or seeking help outside our beliefs.
We need beliefs to function in this world. What matters is what we believe in and whether we are open to change our beliefs. When we believe in a better world, we will try and make this a better world.
Keep assessing, believing, changing .... and growing.