What if we trusted ourselves and each other enough to freely ReThink our handed beliefs at any time?
“What if our beliefs were more like lenses through which we see the world? Interchangeable lenses giving color, light, and context to our understanding?”
You were handed a system of beliefs. You’re not stuck with them, but they were handed to you. Let me give you a personal example. I am white. I am a white man. I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual man, and I was born into a white family. I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual man, and I was born into a white family who are evangelical Christians. I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual man, and I was born into a white family who are evangelical Christians from a small town in Idaho. Now a few questions. What do I believe about abortion? What do I believe about marriage? What do I believe about transgender people? What do I believe about Democrats? What do I believe about guns? If you are an open-minded and gracious person you may find yourself in a position of thinking, how could I possibly know those answers if I don’t know you? But for the sake of this exercise, let’s go with your gut. When you read the list of things about me, my skin color, my gender, my sexual identity, my religion, my geographical location, you have to admit, you had a gut response to my questions. Even if you forced yourself to reserve final judgment, you had a quick answer that came to mind…right? You’re not wrong to have that initial, gut judgment response. You’re not wrong because if we’ve thoughtfully engaged the world on almost any level for even a little amount of time, we know that chances are if I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual male raised in an evangelical Christian church in a small town in Idaho…I probably am not in favor of abortion. I probably have a strong belief about marriage being between one man and one woman for life. I probably don’t get transgender people at all. I’m probably a proud, conservative republican, and I probably own at least one gun. Is it wrong to make these assumptions? Possibly, but that’s a debate for a different time. My point, today, is the demographics. Speaking purely from a demographical view, those assumptions have a high likelihood of being accurate. Why is this the case though? And maybe a more important question is, is it problematic for us? Let’s talk about the why question first. The Nature vs. Nurture conversation has been a huge topic from those outside of but looking into the queer community. Are those on the queer spectrum there because of genetic disposition (nature) or because of exposure to outside influences that guided them in that direction (nurture)? It’s a huge conversation primarily from those outside looking in…which again, is an entirely different topic worth discussing. I think the Nature vs. Nurture conversation can be helpful to understanding our inherent belief systems as well. Do I have my beliefs because of some internal guiding mechanism (nature) or because of exposure to outside influences (nurture)? Interestingly, while many in the queer community have expressed overcoming immense family, societal, religious, and relational (nurture) pressures to embrace who they truly believe themselves to be (nature), it can similarly be said of anyone choosing a different system of beliefs than that which they have been surrounded within their lifetime. Please understand me here, this is merely an example, a somewhat weak one at that, and not an attempt to draw a parallel between the experiences of those in the queer community and those outside who are changing belief systems. Many claim their belief systems as a part of who they are. They believe these beliefs to have come internally from within. They are a part of their core being, and as such, dictate who they associate with, where they live, how they think of others (not to mention how they treat others), and so on. For these, their beliefs are rigid and concrete, firm, unchanging. They think of them as a foundation on which they build their lives. They also have a tendency to be surprised, offended, or even angry at others who do not share their same beliefs. There is a language that is developed in the communities of those who share these same beliefs. It is a language full of assumptions, idioms, and slang. Anyone who enters these communities is immediately thought to share the same beliefs and understand the language. They may be thought odd, at first, if they give any hint of differing views, which can lead to complete ostracization if proven true. While it may sound as if I am speaking negatively of such communities, I’m not. In fact, it is extremely rare to find any community who does not fit this profile. And those extremely rare communities who do not fit the profile, are very intentional about being different…which usually leads to the formation of a similar community anyway. Large communities, small communities, religious and irreligious communities, political communities, conservative and liberal communities, clubs, associations, families, almost no one is exempt. These communities seem to create a life of their own. They have a need to propagate the species. To continue the growth of the family tree. So, it is most common to grow upholding the same, or at least similar beliefs as your family. For many, these are the beliefs that become the foundation of which we spoke earlier. It is likely then, that if I am a conservative, republican, evangelical Christian who believes abortion is murder, and homosexuals are in danger of the fires of hell, that I was raised in, and may continue to live in, a community with shared beliefs on these matters. And while it is impossible to say with certainty, it is highly likely that I would not hold all, or any, of these same views if I was born into a different community, such as the Kayapo tribe in Brazil. So, nurture, by far, seems to win out in the formation of our belief systems time and again. But let’s consider for a moment those who have taken on radically new belief systems differing greatly from their childhood communities. Would this not be an example of nature at work in our beliefs? Maybe I was raised to believe certain things, but something internally, in the core of my being just didn’t feel right? I would ask this, what did you do in your journey to embrace a new belief system? Did you read books? Did you listen to podcasts? Did you attend conferences? Did you relocate where you live? Did you attend school somewhere? Did you join a new church, mosque, synagogue, etc.? Did you meet someone compelling? Or, like Siddhartha Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, did you quiet yourself and meditate until a new belief was born within you? Chances are, it was a collection of the former and not the latter. Chances are you found or were exposed to other communities. Communities with belief systems that more closely resonated with your core being. Maybe it was more than one community. Maybe you have found some, but not all, of a community, resonating within and so you are a part of a number of different communities. What is the point of all this then if we are doomed to only be handed our beliefs? What is the point if we cannot be responsible for cultivating our own beliefs? What is the point if our beliefs never fully belong to us? I would start by asking, “What if…?” What if our beliefs are not actually the core of who we are, but instead, expressions of who we are? What if we held our beliefs less like concrete, firm, rigid, unyielding, and more like liquid, flowing, and able to take on the shape of the space they are given? What if our beliefs did not control our worldview but instead guided it? What if our beliefs were more like lenses through which we see the world? Interchangeable lenses giving color, light, and context to our understanding? What if our beliefs weren’t foundational so much as having beliefs is what is foundational? Imagine a house built on a rigid, concrete system of beliefs. What happens when your worldview begins to expand? What happens when you meet people who don’t fit within the foundation? What happens when life takes a turn that goes outside of the structured rigidity of your foundational beliefs? The house becomes incredibly confining, small, uncomfortable, painful even. Now imagine a house built on a foundation of having beliefs as a guide to our worldview. It’s a foundation that can be added onto and subtracted from at any time. The house can grow to fit those that were once outside. It can grow to fit ideas that were once outside and understanding that was once outside. It is a house that can grow to accommodate an ever-expanding worldview. Is what we believe not important then? On the contrary, what we believe is truly responsible for how we engage with our world every day. The point of this mental exercise is to identify the “how” question. How do we come to our base beliefs in the first place? What we choose to believe is something I will devote more time to in another post. We were all handed our systems of beliefs, but that is not the problem. The problem is when those systems of beliefs become things in and of themselves. The problems come when we hold these beliefs with a death grip refusing to let them slide through our fingers. What if freedom and growth as human beings come when we allow our beliefs to become like water. Fluid. Beliefs that are flowing freely in and out of us, merging with communal oceans teeming with life and beauty to be explored. What if we trusted ourselves and each other enough to freely ReThink our handed beliefs at any time? What if…