Recognizing Your Belief System

"We are born believing. A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Belief Definition

An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.

Decisions in our life are driven by two main factors, what is rational and what is irrational.

Let us start with the rational. Something driven by rationality is bound by factual evidence and logical thinking. Fact is data available to one or more to the five senses, data available to two or more people. It is the essentially the scientific method. Gather a bunch of facts that are consistent with each other to formulate a theory, and using that theory to come up with a prediction based on probability

[. For example, we see the sun rise each and every day, we then find that out of 1000 days, the sun rises 1000 times. These are facts. The probability that the sun will rise tomorrow is very high, yet not yet 100% accurate - but it is the best we have in terms of a method of prediction. 

Now take a more a slightly more complicated example. Say we live in a place where we only see white swans. After the 1000th white swan we make a theory that "All swans are white". A prediction we can draw from this theory is, the next swan we see will be in all probability, white. Yet this is limited to the environment in which we live in - perhaps another part of the world, there are all black swans. 

Now regarding the irrational, these are things like belief systems, values and feelings which are not necessarily bound by fact or evidence. They are purely subjective notions.  A classical argumentative technique is to catch when the other party is found to go "beyond the facts". For example, if a worker, Sam, gives these three factual statements regarding a promotion;

1.  "I have worked for 5 years"

2. "John has worked for 5 years"

3. "John received a promotion"

If Same were to then say, "Therefore I should get a promotion", he would be going beyond the facts. He has placed his value system through the word should. This value system is specifically concerning the notion of "fairness" - which is a subjective notion. There are also a myriad of other elements that may have impacted Sam's promotion - including skill, ability, productivity which are more objective notions. 

Often people may not have factual evidence and go with their other irrational notions such as "feelings". 

"I feel that I have worked hard, and I deserve the promotion". 

This statement can appeal to the feelings of the other party but in reality, cannot be proven true or false as the appeal is within the person's subjective emotions which cannot be argued against. 

Now this is not to say to never appeal to the emotions in order to reach a goal (often in the form of rapport), but realize that it is a very poor argument that can easily be refuted. 

Let's go into more detail with beliefs.

Beliefs are a thought that you make a reality for yourself. Beliefs are thoughts that you have decided are true. Beliefs exist when you have faith in certain things. Beliefs are at the core of our humanity and are usually the driving force that motivates us.

For those people out there who are extremely rational in their thinking, they may be losing out on the power of belief and will. The internal drive that is not bound by logic can take one further than one firmly set into the ground via rationality. A classic example is fear, although mostly irrational, it can be a huge driving force to avoid pain and disaster. 



Here are a few ways that beliefs develop:

Beliefs are taught to us. Many of us are born into families that have some sort of existing belief system. For a friend of mine, she was brought up in what I would consider a religious belief system, where her family’s faith in God was what drove most of the family’s path through life. Another friend of mine has a father who taught her to always ask questions and challenge systems and structures that govern our world, and this has been a key contributor to her work as an activist. I was raised in a family with a belief system that education was the key to success, and naturally, I followed a very supported path to education that has gotten me to where I am now. In many cases, we believe what we are taught to believe before we have the opportunity to form our own beliefs outside of the family we are born into, but experience lets us alter those beliefs as we mature.

Beliefs come through evidence. There is a very strong part of beliefs that are built on rationality. But these beliefs often go beyond the evidence. As humans, we automatically take in information, and then the frontal cortex of your brain helps us decide whether to keep that information or not. Quite often, we use evidence based knowledge to strengthen our belief systems. We apply facts, statistics or examples to strengthen our beliefs. Can you think of a time when you backed up one of your beliefs with a strong fact or statistic when discussing your beliefs with another person?

Beliefs come through association. When we surround ourselves by various people, we also begin to take on their belief system. For instance, when you align yourself with a particular political party, you tend to take on those views, or beliefs, of the political party as your own. When you work for an institution or well-established business, you begin to take on their beliefs as your own. I recently spoke with a friend who worked for a particular educational institution for a long time, and recently moved to another line of work, and she remarked how much she realized her former institution informed her belief system. Belief systems can come and go depending on who we surround ourselves with.

Beliefs come through experiences. When things happen to us in our lives, we begin to form beliefs about ourselves, our lives, and our relationship to others. I recently coached someone who is going through a career transition, and had several unsuccessful interviews, and began to believe that he would never find a fulfilling job. We worked to change that belief when he got the opportunity of a lifetime! I had another person I was coaching tell me that she believes that the only thing that she will ever be able to do in her life is be a teacher, despite having other interests. Some people believe that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to, and through this belief, they usually can!

Beliefs come from your gut. Human intuition is quite possibly the most valuable thing that we have. Human intuition: that feeling in your gut, the sense of something that you can’t get rid of, an inkling, or a hunch. Our own sense of intuition is often a driving force in the formation of our beliefs. I’ve always learned to trust my gut, and investigate some of the hunches that my gut is telling me. Often, when I look further into my gut, it is often a result of something within my belief system that is urging me to look further. 

What do you believe?

Beliefs are an important thing for you to reflect on. Through your beliefs, you manifest yourself and your place in this world. Your beliefs dictate what you do, the decisions you make, your opinions on people or events, and most of all, how you treat others.

Are there any right or wrong beliefs? Yes, there are. For instance, some of our world’s most notorious criminals carried out some of the most heinous crimes against humanity, citing their beliefs as their motivations.

Here is what I believe about beliefs: While I like to operate under the belief that everyone is entitled to their beliefs, I do believe that beliefs can be harmful at times. Phew.

One’s beliefs do not have to be the beliefs of the mainstream, in fact, it is differences in beliefs that make the world go ‘round. One’s beliefs can be unique, not always understood by others, and everyone is within their right to develop their beliefs, but when beliefs become the mechanism through which we harm others, then the ideas of beliefs and their role in shaping our world become more serious.

Take some time to undertake an exploration of your beliefs, especially in terms of how your beliefs manifest themselves in your work and life.

Here are a few questions I can offer for self reflection that you can ask yourself in terms of your beliefs and your belief system:

·       What are some beliefs I was born into? How have my beliefs changed over time?

·       What “belief systems” do I belong to or align myself with?

·       How do my beliefs differ from others? How are my beliefs similar to others?

·       Are any beliefs that I carry around with me have the potential to isolate myself from others, or isolate others from me?

·       How much do my beliefs play a role in my decision-making processes?

·       Do I have some beliefs that can use a bit of an adjustment?

As humans, we often think we have a grasp on the things that make us human – our thoughts, our knowledge, what we are told, what we feel, what we believe – yet we don’t always take the time to reflect on those intricate elements within our own beings that dictate who we are. We need to know when to appeal to our beliefs and when to step back and make sure that at least the majority of our actions are bound by logic. What do you believe?