Sunday, January 23, 2011

Message #10 - You are a Prisoner of Your Beliefs!

This is one in a series of messages:

Reality is what you take to be true. What you take to be true is what you believe. What you believe is based upon your perceptions. What you perceive depends upon what you look for. What you look for depends upon what you think. What you think depends upon what you perceive. What you perceive determines what you believe. What you believe determines what you take to be true. What you take to be true is your reality.

You are a Prisoner of Your Beliefs!

I know you are a broad-minded person. Sure, you’re willing to let me challenge your point of view. Of course you look at all sides of every issue and don’t try to prove that how you see it is the right way to see it. No one would possibly think that you have a strongly held belief system to which you are attached.

Yeah, right!

Don’t be offended. You’re about as broad-minded as the rest of us. You see the world through a prism that you have created. The prism consists of countless decisions you’ve made about how things are. So when you look – at a situation, a person, the world, you don’t have a choice. You are looking through your customized prism, i.e., your beliefs.

To be abstract, if your prism is colored red and I tell you to look at the beautiful blue sky, you will say, with total honesty, that what you see is a red sky.

You don’t live life in the abstract, however. So when you talk with a person who you have decided is boring, that person will bore you. If you see someone else who your belief prism tells you is interesting, you will pay attention to what she says.

Now notice something. These are not new beliefs that occur to you in the moment. Your beliefs are decisions from the past that now appear as reality in the present. Sure, at some point, when you first met the boring person, you did have a choice. You could decide what you thought about him. And you did, probably instantly. He’s boring. And that became the truth for you.

And yes, you have the power to replace a boring prism with an interesting prism, but you rarely do that. That would mean you are admitting you’ve made a mistake, that you have been wrong. And you’d rather retain your belief than question the accuracy of it. You are locked in, imprisoned.

It’s worse than that. It you remember you have a choice and can change your opinion that would be useful. But you forget you have that power and instead operate on automatic. Without thinking, you respond in a way that is consistent with the previous conclusions you’ve reached.

So the boring remains boring. And the interesting remains interesting. Which serves to validate and reinforce your beliefs. It’s called a vicious circle. Thus, the future turns out to be very much like the past. Things tend to repeat themselves. As Edna St. Vincent Millay said:

Life is not one thing after another,

It’s the same damn thing over and over again.

You live in a culture that worships answers. And because you want to be seen as a valued member of the group, you go along to get along. You become an Answer Worshipper just like everyone else. You develop a point of view. You want to understand. You don’t realize that when you say you “understand” something you’ve given up on other ways of seeing it. Your beliefs become self-imposed limitations. Your beliefs have you by the throat.

You shouldn’t win the gold medal for having the best answers. It should go to those with the best questions. But here’s the problem. The longer you’re alive, the more educated you become, the more attached you are to how much you know, all that creates a conspiracy that has you focus on the answers and lose sight of the questions.

Kids ask the best questions. At a Children's Science Workshop in San Francisco, a teacher asked 3rd and 4th grade students to write down things they wonder about:

  • "How can the plug get electricity from the plug hole?"
  • "I wonder about where the toilet water, pee and poo goes to."
  • “I wonder how a bullet is strong enough to kill someone.”
  • “Why are we going to die?”
  • "I wonder how cell phones could communicate with other cell phones by having an antenna."
  • “I wonder how airplanes don’t fall on the ground even though there is still gravity.”
  • “Who was the first person alive?”
  • “I wonder why girls and boys act different.”
  • “How do you make an iPod?”
  • “Who made up words?”

If I had asked you to come up with ten questions, could you have done as well as these eight year olds?

You may be out of practice at asking questions, but at some point back in the day you were good at it. Fortunately, it’s not too late to rehabilitate your ability. Your biggest challenge will be to put your love of answers on hold.

Don’t jump to a quick conclusion here. I didn’t say answers are bad. Or that you shouldn’t have points of view. Or that it is useless to understand. Not at all. I want you to see that when you rely on predetermined conclusions, assumptions or presuppositions about some one or some thing you limit your freedom to think creatively with fresh eyes.

You’re in charge of what you believe. You didn’t inherit them. You made them up. You put them in place. You’re the one who says they’re true. So you’re the one who can question them and change them if you choose to.

You always have a Get Out of Jail card at your disposal. You don’t have to be a prisoner of your beliefs!


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