THE BLOG
11/14/2012 12:21 am ET | Updated Jan 13, 2013

It Ain't Necessarily So: How Bulletproof Is Your Bubble of Beliefs?

That we all live inside our own self-created reality, or "bubble," was never more powerfully demonstrated than in the presidential election last week.

There are many lessons to be taken from the outcome, and no doubt political operatives on both sides will be sifting through the data for months and years to come in order to gain insight on exactly how they either got it so wrong or how the other side managed to get it so right.

I'm curious to see if those who lost will take a hard look in the mirror and assess the role that their deeply-embedded, accepted without questioning, fundamental beliefs played in their downfall. Lest any of us think this kind of assessment does not apply to ourselves, think again. This is a "teachable moment" for all of us, not just those who lost. And it's not about politics. It's about the way we live our lives.

Last week, the Republican Party held up a mirror for the rest of us to see ourselves and understand how, in our own way, we too live inside an alternate reality, constructed by the wall of beliefs we've spent our entire lives constructing and defending. We saw played out on the national stage how seductive it is to believe our own fabrications about the way it is, and we saw the prices we'll pay as a result of our unwillingness to look beyond what we think we already know.

Reality has a way of crashing the party of even its most dedicated deniers. Hurricane Sandy put the topic of climate change on the table in this election in a way that neither party ever could have, left to their climate-change-denying or avoiding-talking-about-it-during-the-election kind of ways. Mother Nature has her own agenda, and we will pay a price for ignoring it. New Jersey governor Chris Christie may just end up being the newest convert, at least to the necessity of a role for the federal government in the case of a natural disaster.

The point being, we can only skate on the frozen river of denial for just so long before the spring thaws begin to break up the ice and what's been hidden below the surface comes crashing into view.

Last week, it was the Republicans' turn to be "shellshocked" and blindsided by facts, which in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary, never found a place inside their bubble. But sometime during our lifetime, we'll have our own turn at being gobsmacked by an inconvenient truth we've been pretending not to know.

The results of these little "come to Jesus" moments are usually never pretty. And we know that, which is why we try to stave it off for as long as possible. Hence, denial gets a foothold in our consciousness. It's our own form of "Romneysia."

Think back to the last time you were blindsided by events that seemingly had no relationship, as far as you could tell, with your version of reality. Maybe it was when your significant other told you it was over or you discovered he/she had not been faithful. Maybe it was when your boss gave you an upbraiding at work or a less than favorable review. Maybe it was the loss of an important client you thought was in the bag. Or a diagnosis that changed your world.

Recall your disbelief, at first, that things could possibly any way other than the way you'd imagined them, nay, knew them to be. It's a very humbling experience to say the least, to discover that you've been basing your entire interpretation of reality on a false premise. This is exactly what the Republicans are dealing with in the aftermath of the elections. But this is not an isolated example of deluded thinking. Most human beings are also "guilty" of this very same kind of behavior.

What we saw so clearly out of this election speaks to the power of our ability to latch on to a certain interpretation of factual information and "spin" it so that the "facts" support our beliefs or point of view. It also speaks to the power of the mind to select which facts support what it already thinks.

Some believe that the only objective reality is the one we live inside our minds. Last week, we saw a manufactured reality clash with the "boots on the ground" reality and watched the meltdowns that occurred in that clash.

Here's the thing: As human beings, it is our nature to interpret. We can't help ourselves. It's how we're wired. German philosopher Martin Heidegger stated, "Human being is interpretation, all the way down." Our ability to give meaning to what happens is what separates us from all other living things.

Basically, we're making it all up, all the time. Life happens and we make meaning. From where does the meaning come? You guessed it! Mostly our past and the decisions and conclusions we've drawn from it. Those decisions get warehoused, stockpiled, filed and categorized and eventually make their way into the material that constitutes our belief system.

So that we don't have to work too hard to find meaning every time something happens to us, we can simply access our beliefs to discover what we already think about (fill in the blank) based on our past experiences. We're on cruise control when it comes to this. It's automatic, requiring no conscious work on our part.

Handy, right? Perhaps, but deadly so. We might profit in the short term by not having to carefully examine our assumptions every time something challenges us, but we also set ourselves up for the big fall.

Because of the magnitude of their impact, last week's election results are a perfect opportunity for each of us to see ourselves in the faces of those who never saw it coming and ask ourselves the following questions:

1. Where in my own life have I been falsely certain of an outcome that later turned out not to be even remotely so?
2. What was I pretending not to know at the time?
3. What inconvenient truth about myself, or the situation, was I avoiding?
4. What was I unwilling or too afraid to look at in myself?
5. How do I avoid taking responsibility when life delivers such a surprise? Who do I blame? What justifications do I use?
6. What evidence did I reject in order to be right about my beliefs? Who did I make wrong?
7. Who can I count on to pierce through my bubble and confront me with the truth when I least want to hear it?

It's human nature to create beliefs and then to defend them. Sometimes at all costs. But if you are ever to live a meaningful life, one based on a somewhat realistic view of the world in which you live, it pays to surround yourself with people who will call you on your... well, let's just call them "fantasies."

We need people in our lives who care enough about us to risk telling the truth, especially when doing so might jeopardize the relationship. This is a delicate skill to acquire. It takes a great deal of honesty and trust to develop this kind of relationship because very often, the relationship itself can indeed, be at stake. Or at least appear to be.

Our bubble of beliefs would benefit from regular audits. Do a merciless inventory at regular intervals. Ask yourself questions 1-7 and see how you stack up. You may not have a presidential election at stake in your own life, but something even more important is on the line: your future.

What's your take on this? What lessons do you draw about yourself from the outcome of this election? Please leave your comments here or on my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul. For personal contact, reach me at judith@judithrich.com.

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Blessings on the path.

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