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Holding on and letting go

How do we begin to wage peace? Much points to opening our minds, letting go of stubborn conviction and allowing ourselves to question the assumptions that we currently believe to be true. Like it or not, much of what we believe to be true simply isn’t true, is partially true or represents but one of many possible truths. Yet so many of us stubbornly cling to our beliefs.

Let's consider the following three somewhat universal reasons for our holding on to beliefs that just might make us question the wisdom of our convictions.

First, let’s consider perspective. Take the parable of the blind men and the elephant. In this story, a group of blind men stumble upon an elephant, something none of them have encountered previously. Each man approaches the elephant from a distinct perspective, one feeling the trunk, one feeling the tusk, one feeling the tail, etc. No man has the same experience and they each argue that their experience is accurate and the others are suspected of being dishonest. The moral of this parable is that humans tend to view their own partial perspective as universal and ignore the perspectives of others.

The second reason for holding onto beliefs that are not accurate is persuasion. Because our beliefs serve as the butterfly wings of behavior development, those in power have used beliefs to control public behavior. Bottom line, back in the day the Golden Rule prevailed; “Those who had the gold, got to make up the rules" (and beliefs/truths). To be sure, the “truths” declared by those in power were considered unwavering; those who challenged the validity of those "truths" would be accused of heresy and punished. Absent the scientific method of discerning unbiased truth, those in power chose which beliefs were elevated to the supreme rank of “truths”. Having absolute power to choose what people believe is the ultimate form of social control.

The relentless pursuit for control over what people believe is alive and well in today’s power struggle between politicians, scientists and the free press, regarding which beliefs are “truths” and which beliefs are “fake news”. This is simply because our beliefs are the functional equivalent of butterfly wings; as such, controlling beliefs results in gaining control of behavior. Thus, the olden day Golden Rule still is alive and well. Those with the gold will attempt to persuade you to hold on to the beliefs that sustain their power.

The third reason for holding on to beliefs that are not accurate is exaggeration. In some way, this reason is similar to the way the blind man exaggerates his limited perspective to serve as a Universal truth regarding the nature of elephants. But, rather than focusing on the unique perspective, as with the blind men, exaggeration occurs when we apply a lesson learned from a tiny sliver of our life experience and apply that across our entire experience. We all have labels we apply to ourselves and others. “I struggle with math.” “Those people are rude.” “I’m a very shy person.” “I don’t like seafood.” “I hate to speak in public.” We all know the kinds of beliefs we hold to be true about ourselves and others. Generally speaking, such beliefs are rooted in very narrow experiences and end up being applied very broadly. Often, the headwaters of such beliefs are something like “In grade school, I flunked a math test and was deeply embarrassed, so I now want to avoid math in the future to protect myself from feeling that way again.” Or, “The one or two people I’ve met from that culture were rude to me, so I assume that all people like that are rude, to avoid feeling that way again.” The point is that our Mind does its best to navigate ourselves through our life experience, pursuing opportunities to succeed and avoiding painful situations. In doing so, our Mind tends to “play it safe” and exaggerate our narrowly experienced lessons learned and apply them broadly. This practice creates beliefs that we hold onto which are at most partial truths.

So, between having an ever-evolving perspective, being constantly persuaded by those in power and frequently exaggerating our own experiences, the fact is that we all hold on to beliefs that simply aren’t true, are partially true or represent but one of many possible truths. These misperceptions can have a significant negative effect on our wellbeing and our world.

But, there is good news! The emergence of science has played a significant role in reducing the first two reasons for holding false beliefs. We can learn how to harness our Mind’s Superpower of Judgement and our Spirit’s Superpower of Love to replace our limiting beliefs with more accurate, empowering beliefs. We can learn to wage peace.

Thanks to Peter for the inspiring blog post title!

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