Wikipedia defines a belief system as: “1. A “belief system” is a set of mutually supportive beliefs. The beliefs of any such system can be classified as religious, philosophical, ideological, or a combination of these.” For most of us, along with what Wikipedia describes, a belief system is a map or reference. It guides us in navigating our lives and the world-at-large. When we are around people who share a similar belief system to our own we usually feel comfortable, at ease. We are supported in our beliefs and in the associated areas of our lives by those who share similar belief systems.
If we travel to a foreign country, unless we have some prior knowledge of the language, customs and values of the people there, we can find ourselves feeling on the “outside”. We may unable to comfortably manage even basic social interactions like shopping, simple conversations. If we know the language but hold different values than the residents of the country we’re in, we may find ourselves just as isolated. There is truth in the saying; “Birds of a feather flock together.”
With transportation and communication being what they are today there is a rise in what I’ve heard called a “Citizen of the World”. People who travel frequently and may speak 2,3 or more languages and, most importantly to me, share a core belief system that is based in basic human reality. As is noted in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people everywhere share the same basic needs. We can always find common ground with someone in our travels if we keep things grounded in basic human reality. However, being able to always find common ground with someone doesn’t mean we can always find common ground with everyone. Not everyone’s values and belief system universally recognizes nor honors basic human realities. Variations in values and belief systems can range from the exotic to the esoteric all the way to the sociopathic and psychopathic.
As mentioned earlier in this post, one function of our belief system is as a map or reference for our thinking and behavior. This makes our core belief system very important in regard to our health and well-being. And because we interact with others (at least most of us do) our core belief system also affects the world around us. As conscientious citizens of whatever family, culture, community, nation, or other grouping that we choose to belong to, we owe it to ourselves and others to maintain an ecologically sound, reality based belief system!
A belief system that is based in erroneous concepts, fantasy or unrealistic “I would like things to be like this” thinking can be as much of a liability to a person and the people around them as a debilitating virus. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to re-imagine and improve our world. It does mean we benefit from keeping ourselves grounded in truth. Likening some erroneous concepts within a human mind to viruses within a personal computer is a fair analogy. For example, a virus may prevent a computer from performing certain functions it is capable of when “healthy”. Likewise, some beliefs can prevent human beings from doing things which are in their best interests. The most extreme example of this I can think of at this moment are the situations when certain religious beliefs prevent people from getting medical attention which would only do them good, maybe save their life. Sometimes our belief systems, believing ourselves superior or inferior to others, can prevent us from doing such a simple thing as saying “hello” to someone we pass on the street.
On the other hand sometimes a computer virus causes a computer to do something which is undesirable, possibly even self-destructive, and which it otherwise wouldn’t do. This also occurs with certain beliefs that people hold. The world is full of examples of people who have embraced beliefs of superiority based on racial, religious, political, economic, physical or intellectual criteria, doing inhuman things to other people.
Along with examining our own beliefs that may allow or lead us to act wrongfully toward ourselves or others, we need to closely examine the beliefs of anyone else who may be trying to get us to follow direction from them. Giving over our hearts and minds to be “programmed” by someone else is a risky business at best. At worst it can lead us to be pawns in the wrongful destruction of others and/or ourselves.
Some good news is that we can change our values and belief systems. Of course we can change relatively superficial values and beliefs pretty easily. What kind of car we like, our favorite food, musician, movie, book, color, etc. are all things which, if we wanted to, we can change in the blink of an eye, so to speak (although sometimes those aspects of our lives are rooted in deeper aspects of ourselves). But the deeper values and beliefs, the ones that form our core belief system, are more difficult to change. If for no other reason this is due to the myriad associations and neural connections that are present with more deeply held beliefs. Unlike personal computers, changing our core “software” necessarily means countless adjustments in our “hardware” (neural connections). And that takes time. That is one reason why we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves when we backslide on a resolution we have made. It takes time, maybe months and years, for our system to thoroughly process and implement more complex “requests” for change. When it comes to changing our more deeply held beliefs; persistence is definitely one of the keys to success!
As mentioned in an earlier post, “Truth and Our Mental State”; in a book entitled “Aesthetics of Change” author Bradford P. Keeney describes change as being a recursive process. We visit and revisit the matter at hand gradually reshaping our thinking and behavior.