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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.

Belief Systems and Human Interaction Are Illusory, The Allegory of the Cave

In Plato's "Allegory of the Cave", prisoners are shackled and restrained. Behind the prisoners, at the mouth of the cave, there burns a large fire. As the prisoners face a wall of the cave, their movements restricted and unable to turn around, they view shadows on a cave wall. Shadows that begin to take various shapes. The prisoners, unable to see what is actually creating those shadows describe them as cows, or sheep, or perhaps a lion.

The shadows then are as close as the prisoners get to reality and in fact, those shadows are their reality. They accept those shadows as a true representation of what they believe to be an accurate depiction. A truth.

One night a prisoner breaks free. He is able to turn and see that in fact, a puppeteer captor is making those shadows. It is the first time he is able to see that tiny puppets and their projections are responsible for casting the shapes he has seen.

This then is his first glimpse of the truth. In that moment, his perception and reality have changed. He realizes that those shadows were intangible and illusory all the time.

Human beings, from birth, are given a set of operating instructions. A belief system based on opinions and experience. Indoctrinated and trained not unlike animals, small children accept what they are taught by their parents as true. They know nothing else. Many of these belief systems are accurate but some are not. As children grow they acquire different beliefs based on their interaction with other children and the world around them. They acquire different belief systems which not unlike the operating instructions given by their parents, they accept as true.

These belief systems guide how we respond to other human beings. Who we choose to like or dislike. How we judge and misjudge others. The problem with those belief systems is that they are fallible and sometimes wrong. They are based on opinions and isolated occurrences. It never occurs to us that once we have acquired a belief that quite possibly it is wrong. We very often never re-examine our beliefs. At times, we find ourselves rigorously defending those beliefs not unlike those prisoners viewing illusory shadows on the cave wall.

As we characterize people and make opinions and judgments based on our limited experience and knowledge, we are often wrong. This causes conflict and in some cases sets off a chain of "one-ups-man-ship" and diminishing behavior as one human being feels attacked and launches a counterattack. Each rigorously defending belief systems which may be partly true or untrue.

Some describe this as the insanity of the planet. In the worst case, it has caused millions of deaths due to conflict and war. On a personal level, human interaction between two people can quickly spiral out of control as two people hurl insults at each other while defending belief systems. Hurting feelings and damaging others. In turn, being hurt and damaged ouselves.

The only thing we can control is our individual self and our perceptions. How we choose to see the world.

In our quest for emotional freedom, we have seen this or lived through this insanity. In order to end this madness, we are willing to take our first step. We have been viewing shadows. Essay number one deals with the recognition that we all have faulty beliefs and that we are willing to accept that premise in order to feel better about ourselves and quit hurting those around us.

An Introduction

In the beginning, it is always about control.

The world you were born into was waiting for you. You were indoctrinated by parents with a set of values and beliefs that you accepted as true. You knew no other terms. As you lived your life you added the experiences that shaped you. Some good and some not so good. Your life worked fairly well until one day when it didn't work so well. Confused and bewildered, perhaps searching, you have landed here. Desperately trying to quiet that "white noise" in your head.

In a world of chaos, of death and destruction, of cynicism and harsh judgment, of personal failure and depression, there is hope. We accept life on life's terms. We accept that we can control nothing other than ourselves. Out of that chaos and ruin, where so many despair, we are going to search through the ruins of our smoldering lives and we are going to extract the one thing that matters. The one thing we can control. Ourselves.

Or maybe you just want to improve your attitude and your life. To do this, you must change the way you perceive the world. It is an honest approach and it works. It does require some assembly.

What you are going to find here is a series of essays. The essays are universally applicable to everyone-meaning that they work. Only four things are required of you in order to change your life.

1. A desperation or willingness to accept a new way of viewing the world.

2. A willingness to read and comprehend the essays.

3. Develop a plan within the framework of the essays that works for you.

4. Commit a small part of everyday, just minutes, to regular maintenance of the plan you develop.

You are about to embark on a journey where there are no good days or bad days, just different ones. You are about to embark on a journey wherein you will re-tool and and re-program your life. The results will be noticeable almost immediately. You are going to know a new happiness and a new freedom, a world where unconditional love is not an illusion, a place where you can regain and recapture the beauty and promise of your life. A place where there is no longer any noise.

In the end, it is always about control. We give up control to achieve it. A paradox.

As we compile the essays in a chronological form, I invite discussion and comments. The essays within this blog will be numbered, identified, and easy to comprehend. Flowery speech and intangible concepts will be kept to a minimum or explained. Other comments, posts, and discussions may take place within the blog and are simply used as aides in defining the concepts and the reasoning behind the essays.