"We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them." -- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Goethe was correct -- it can be risky business to challenge someone to examine their beliefs; we need look no further than to Socrates, who was put to death because he was teaching young people to "think" for themselves and derive their own beliefs from within. Have you ever sat and thought about the beliefs you hold as being true? Occasionally it is a good thing to do -- to just review what you hold as sacrosanct and then consider the source from which those beliefs came. It could be a belief related to your spiritual or religious views, political views, world views, cultural views, racial views, or any of the other legion of topics that occupy your life. The question is, whose belief is it you call your own -- and when and how did you develop that belief?
With the pending elections, now is the perfect time to consider the source from which we drew the political ideals and values we might hold so dear. This is not at all to infer that what we believe isn't the truth (for ourselves); it's simply an invitation to consider how we came to accept it as our truth. Most of us inherited our beliefs and core values from our parents, and that can be a good thing -- or, in some cases, perhaps not such a good thing -- and the same could be said about our teachers, bosses, ministers, and others who played an influential role in our early years. The real question is do you really believe what you say you believe? Sometimes we don't really know what we deeply believe until we take time to consciously explore those beliefs and see where they live within us. Authentic self-inquiry is a practice we can do on a regular basis. This process is especially important if we catch ourselves avoiding self-inquiry because of the discomfort it might stir up.
One of the telltale signs of how deeply we are rooted in our beliefs (or not) can be found in our need to force them on other people. I respect those who are so on fire with their beliefs that they want to "share" them with the world -- however, insisting that I should accept their beliefs as my own just because they passionately believe it is an entirely different thing. This is a perfect example of how, too often, we lethargically allow others to have free rent in our heads, wherein we mindlessly take on their beliefs as our own because we have not invested the time and energy to consider what it is we really do believe. Let's face it -- it is much easier and less painful to let others tell us what we (should) believe. I wonder how many of us just sit there and watch the ads for certain pharmaceutical products, or political candidates and ballot issues, and just take it all in as gospel rather than doing the work and personally researching the issues. Just because it is on TV or the Internet doesn't mean it is true. The same could be said about our religious indoctrination; just because someone with a title in front of their name said it, doesn't necessarily mean it's true. This is where the inner work comes in: To challenge our beliefs is not always easy because they are often tied with invisible guilt strings to those who gifted us with "their" beliefs. However, examining and challenging what we believe is one of the greatest things we can do as we mature -- it allows us to clarify and deepen the beliefs and convictions that honor who we are today and wish to become in the future... and, in the process, discard the beliefs that no longer work for us.
Many of us give ourselves permission to say things we really don't believe; challenging our beliefs can serve as a filtering system that enables us to compare what is in our minds and in our hearts and to confirm there is a congruency between thought and belief. If we find that what is rattling around in our head doesn't honor what we know lies deeply embedded in our heart, we can toss it out and entertain a new notion about what is true for us today -- and the most empowering thing is we don't have to get permission from others to do so.
What I have discovered for myself is that the more deeply I hold a personal belief, the less compelled I am to debate it with others. This does not mean I won't share it with anyone who asks; I simply will not argue about it because I feel no need to defend what I believe. This does not mean I have no passion for what I believe -- it simply means I have taken time to examine my beliefs and have found great peace in them -- and, yes... Over time I have definitely challenged my beliefs and changed more than a few of them as I have evolved and learned how to think for myself.
How about you? Do you really believe what you say you believe? Just think about it. Goethe and Socrates would both be proud of you.
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