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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Essay 1. The Acquisition and Effects of Belief Systems

Your birth was in a sense, random. You were born to a set of parents that you have no control over. As a small child, you are completely hostage to the parenting skills and belief systems, both good and bad, of your parents. It is key to note that belief systems as used here apply specifically to the emotional interaction of human beings.

Skilled and loving parents take care of you by feeding you, caring for you, and nurturing you. As you become older and your senses develop and you attain awareness and memory, you begin to learn things. You learn to do what makes your parents happy and you learn to avoid those things that you get punished for. You are beginning to understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not. You are acquiring beliefs. You must accept these beliefs because you are in no position to challenge or change them. You agree then to seek out the rewarding emotions of your parents and avoid the punishing emotions. In the first few years of your life all that you know is a result of the skill set of your parents. Many of the belief systems you receive are good and useful but some are not. But as a child growing up, you simply do not have the intellect or comparative experience to determine which beliefs are good and which beliefs are bad. You simply accept them all as true because you do not know the difference.

Simply stated, bad and damaging beliefs are given to you as well.

Perhaps your father is a racist. He simply chooses to believe that blacks or hispanics are stupid or lazy. Perhaps you are black and that role is reversed. As a child, you are not really in a physical or intellectual position to know whether this belief is wrong or not. Fearing the discipline or consequences that may occur, you either agree to this belief of your father's or at least just listen. To oppose your father may bring punishment which by now you have learned to avoid.

Perhaps your mother showers your older sister with affection and seemingly better gifts on her birthday or Christmas. Perhaps your mother constantly compares your sister's grades in school to your grades which are always a little worse. Perhaps your sister receives more attention from family members and friends. You begin to believe that you are less valuable as a human being. You are less attractive or less interesting. You feel diminished, you lack self esteem, or you become resentful of your parents or older sister. Perhaps you use drugs or alcohol to mask your inability to cope emotionally.

It might be that both of your parents are alcoholics or drug addicts. They are unavailable to you in varying states of unconsciousness. Maybe you or your siblings are abused or abandoned emotionally. Or your divorced mother has had a number of unsuccessful relationships with various men and enmeshes you in the possibility that all men are incapable of relationships and disposable. You may be exposed to arguing, fighting, illegal conduct, or any number of dysfunctional belief systems engaged in by your family and friends.

All the while you are watching, listening, evaluating.

Perhaps the reverse is true. Perhaps your parents tell you that you are intelligent and you believe that. Or perhaps your parents tell you that you have great leadership potential or natural athletic ability. Maybe your father tells you that you are beautiful. These things then become acquired beliefs as well that you may find yourself defending later on.

The problem with belief systems is that they are the opinion of one or two parents and perhaps a few other family members and that doesn't mean they are accurate or true. They are the statements and opinions of loving parents and family. As children, we have little choice in the statements made to us, little choice whether to hear or absorb them. Words and actions are very powerful medicine to a child. As you grow older, all of these belief systems are going to come in conflict with the belief systems of others. In a simple case, it might cause an argument. In the worst case, belief systems can lead to wars and the deaths of millions. The insanity of the planet.

As we interact with others we defend our beliefs. We never realize that others have learned differently. We ASSUME that others are wrong because their beliefs are different than the ones our loving mothers and fathers taught us. We become confused.

Let's use racism as an example. As a child you were indoctrinated into a belief system that said black people were lazy and stupid. As you grew older you used the same racial slurs that you had been taught by your father when talking with friends and schoolmates. But instead of acceptance, you feel the pain of rejection. Your friends and teachers admonish you. You get into a fight with a black kid. The school resource officer detains you and perhaps warns you about a law that prohibits the use of racial slurs. Clearly, you have been embedded with a bad belief system. At the point of recognition, you have a choice. You may entrench yourself in your existing belief system which will cause further heartache and emotional turmoil or reject that belief.

An example of a bad belief system might be this. Jim T. grew up in an alcoholic family. Every activity that his extended family does involves drinking. Heavy drinking was acceptable and encouraged. Jim watched this as he was growing up. His father has worked at the same machinist job for 40 years and has been able to perform that job adequately while remaining an alcoholic. Jim T., as a young adult, was fired from his job as a systems analyst for sloppy work and tardiness as the result of drinking and the resultant hangovers. Jim T. bought into a family belief system that believed heavy drinking was acceptable. His wife is divorcing him. He has been out of work for over a year with dim prospects as prospective employers contact his prior employer and he continues to drink.

Clearly then, retaining some acquired belief systems is going to cause conflict and emotional damage. Those systems should be jettisoned. Unfortunately, they are often unrecognized until the damage is done or they are repeated. There is one universal way to avoid belief system damage and conflict.

We are going to examine the real possibility that we have acquired some poor beliefs. We are going to self scrutinize and get honest with ourselves. We are also going to realize that others have been subjected to the same error prone belief systems. Instead of imposing or promoting our belief systems as right and just, we are going to accept that other people have the same dilemma. They were given a set of opinions and beliefs that might be wrong as well. Instead of engaging in mindless rhetoric that leads to conflict with people having different beliefs than our own-we are simply going to accept that these differences can and do exist. We are going to let people practice their beliefs. It does not diminish us or make our beliefs wrong. It simply makes them different. We are going to let others live their lives. This then is the goal of this essay. Recognizing the effects of our belief systems and the conflict that arises as we defend our beliefs or try to make others agree with us. It is needless and hurtful and causes us emotional pain. We are going to let people practice their beliefs even as they might try to impose their beliefs on us. We are going to recognize that others are simply defending opinions. Belief systems are shadows. Shadows that were caused by events in another person's life that you are completely unaware of.

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