Imagine this. You’re coming to me and you’re attacking my deepest held beliefs. You’re attacking something that makes me e buho I am, that is a part of my identity. It can be my love of self-growth or the idea of personal freedom or my deep beliefs in laissez-faire economics.
How do you think I’m going to act towards you? Friendly? Open minded? Interested in reaching a win – win situation?
No. I will either try to convince you that I’m right or I’m going to feel automatically hostile. This is because when you are targeting my beliefs, you are practically saying that a part of me is wrong.
This is the problem with introducing new beliefs. Beliefs tend to work in self reinforcing feedback loops. If a belief becomes a part of us, then we defend it on an emotional level, because breaking it would mean emotional pain. It has little to do with rationality. For a religious person, to give up on the concept of deity is like asking to give up on his hand. He can’t. It is an integral part of his personality.
For example, I don’t believe in marriage. I see marriage as a legal construct. Marriage and love have little to do with each other. Marriage is a form of social and legal organization that has more implications on wealth division and accountability than on actual unity. I do believe that two people can live together for the rest of their life, to some degree, but I don’t believe a contract that puts them in a legal partnership is required or if it even adds any benefit.
Yet, if I say this to a person who is married, that person will antagonize me. That person may agree with me logically but agreeing fully means admitting making a big error in her life and it takes a certain breed of person to suspend ego to such degree.
We build beliefs from other people. We tend to think that they are ours because this is how our brain is wired. Our capacity of self-deception, both in a positive and negative direction is infinite. Yet, these beliefs have little to do with utilitarian value or rationality. They have everything to do with how attached we are to them. We see the world as we see it because that’s how we’ve decided the world it is and it is very hard for others or for ourselves to change this filter.
This is why a long time ago I’ve gave up on the idea of trying to change people. People don’t change because you disagree with their perception of reality. They change when they want to change. I’ve discovered that it is far easier for me to meet like minded people and bond with them than to try and change someone into my liking. I’ve also developed a kind of hostile indifference to those that try to convince me that their way is the best way.
If there is one thing you learn from this article is that we’re good at lying to ourselves. It is not about who is smart or not. It is not about who is mature or not. Many of the beliefs we form are valuable to us because they are ours. It is like the Coca Cola versus Pepsi debate. They’re both freaking water with sugar. The only thing that makes one better than the other is that we identify with one brand more than other, most likely because we’ve associated positive emotions to it.
People who held deeply entrenched beliefs will follow them no matter the amount of contrary evidence is being presented. This is not some kind of irrational stubbornness but a form of personal indoctrination. In the army, you are taught to follow orders and to never question them in battle. The role of this is because in the midst of battle, hesitating can get you killed or other people killed. Yet, eliminating the “why” when someone asks you something is good for organizational discipline but not so much for one’s ability to take the best decision for himself.
Religion is another example. You can argue with a religious person for hours. You can bring all proof you desire against the existence of a god. Yet, the other person will not accept it simply because being religious is part of his identity, just as being an atheist is part of the other person’s religion. If we drop who we are, we are left confused, in a sea of anxiety and misdirection. We don’t want to ask ourselves “who are we?” Or “why are we here?” Because these questions lead to some high degree of existential angst. So we get attached to our beliefs instead.
Based on this argument, I can say that the path to maturity is to see life as a process as opposed as a static structure. A process evolves. Beliefs change. Tweak. Adapt. What was true ten years ago, is not true now. What I considered true as a teenager is false now, because I have understood more.
I can not deny the fact that being attached to my beliefs provides me with emotional security. I don’t want to stumble from day to day questioning everything I do. I’d probably go insane. Or I’d be paralyzed. Or both. The motivation to do something is the tool used by the brain to perform that activity. If I ask myself “are these articles useful?” Then I may never write them as I could argue for or against to them.
So I do self deceive myself. I do form beliefs and I have irrational faith in them. I do have strong opinions about everything from love to the nature of the universe. This allows me to build psychological boundaries and operate as a mature, healthy individual. I need to know who I am in order to accomplish the goals I desire. Operating in constant debug mode, would be quite stupid.
Yet, at the same time I don’t try to get to attached to any belief. I see them as temporary tools. At some points in my life I believed in love. At others I did not. Those beliefs helped me in that period. Believing in love when you are next to a beautiful girl you adore is a good thing. Believing in being alone when you broke up with her is again, a good thing.
I know that the me of next year is going to be related to who I am now but it is not the same person. I’ll have better or more accurate beliefs that allow me to gain a higher utilitarian value out of my actions. I’ll see myself, others and the world through different eyes. Hopefully, the way I see everything will allow me to get better results in all areas of my life. Me, as a person, as a concept, as an idea will be very different after I’ve earned $1.000.000 than I am now. Me after running a marathon will see the world through different lenses (beliefs) than the me of now.
So the key is having enough faith in what you believe right now to walk towards what you want while also being ready to change or adapt your beliefs when you discover new ones. It’s you as a river, flowing, adapting, going downstream (or in some cases upstream, it happens) as opposed to being a lake.
It’s not easy. It’s a huge catch 22. To change you must be willing to accept the pain and confusion that comes with introspection. We don’t want this. Yet, this is the only natural way to progress in life as a person.
You know, when I was a kid (teenager), I considered myself not worthy. I mean not worthy of love, of affection, of sexual gratification, of financial success. This was the belief I’ve held mostly through high-school. I’ve developed this belief to protect myself from rejection. If I don’t see myself as a person who can win, then I won’t try and if I won’t try, I can’t be hurt. And it worked, to some degree.
Yet, once I’ve entered young adulthood, keeping this belief would have been toxic so I’ve decided to prove myself wrong very fast. As soon as I’ve moved in my first place, I’ve invited my then girlfriend to move with me. It wasn’t so much about love as it was about proving to myself that I’m worth it. Slowly, in time, I’ve realized that I am actually worth it and that people see a lot more in myself than I do. I’ve realized that people do respect and like me, girls are attracted to me and smart and successful people want to deal with me. I’ve changed my beliefs by constantly proving to myself that the old image of myself as unworthy was wrong.
Since then, the process never stopped. I constantly refreshed my beliefs. Like a husky which gets rid of the hair in order to grow new one, so I did built new beliefs that are more congruent with what I want from life. It’s not easy but it’s something that if you engage in, it’s going to change the world around you, by changing who you are to the core.
And isn’t this what all life is about?