October 31, 2014

We Are Belief-Making and Belief-Consuming Creatures

As children, we called it “make believe.” People encouraged us to be imaginative and creative, to fantasize and enjoy. Then, as we aged, the guidance changed. Grow up! Be realistic! “Making believe” became the more serious game of “making beliefs”: judging, drawing conclusions, deciding what’s good and bad, right and wrong. All our emotions and behaviors then follow from the beliefs we create.

Parents, priests, teachers, corporate executives and politicians compete busily to teach us or sell us beliefs so that they can influence our feelings and behavior. They know, and we soon learn, that winning the games of power, both personal and political, depends on what we choose to believe. Nobel Prize winners, homemakers, army generals, secretaries, physicians, truck drivers, lawyers, masons, journalists, carpenters, advertising executives, have this in common: they operate from their beliefs. How they vote; what sort of army they support, if any; what purchases they make; where they live; whom they marry; what clothes they wear all flow from their beliefs.

A rather inventive and sophisticated example of belief peddling can be seen in the new and ever-evolving language of warfare. The military industrial complex seeks favorable public opinion in order to encourage congressional support for its products and activities. In recent years, it has been restructuring and reconstituting reality by using new buzzwords, intent on molding beliefs which would support its aims. The following phrases and word combinations come from various governmental reports and announcements dealing with military preparation and actions.

At first glance, a “re-entry vehicle” could appear inviting. We might anticipate a people or cargo carrier that always returns home. Not so! One example, among many, of a “re-entry vehicle” is a nine-megaton nuclear warhead. Army personnel now refer to “collateral damage” during military operations. This has no relation to disturbing lawns and shrubs at roadside. “Collateral damage” refers to the killing of civilians. Sending “Peacemakers” to other countries might gain wide support prior to the public’s realizing “Peacemakers” are MX missiles. “Violence processor” has become the high-tech label for a fully equipped combat soldier.

Encountering the ingenious term “environmental adjustment,” we might imagine a unique ecological thrust healthful to plants (and possibly chiropractic in nature!). However, this phrase means destroying an entire geographic area with a toxic chemical defoliant.

Of all the fanciful images that military belief-makers have tried to create, none seems more paradoxical and intriguing than the phrase used to describe peace. In their obvious effort to sell military vigilance, they refer to peace among nations as “permanent prehostility.”

These propagandists (as all of us are for what we believe) try to harness our preferences and prejudices to their interests by employing a marketing strategy still in it’s infancy.

We can understand immediately the power of beliefs in the political arena and the marketplace, yet we do not readily apply that same clarity to ourselves. We function much like absorbing sponges, acquiring beliefs uncritically at a dizzying pace in order to take care of ourselves in the best way possible. The onslaught of beliefs has become so steady in our culture that often we ingest beliefs and repeat them to others without question or review. “This is the best country in the world.” “We have a right to free speech.” “Death is inevitable.” “College prepares you for life.” “Life is a series of ups and downs.” “Feelings are like instincts; they just come upon you.” “Nothing lasts forever.” “Good health is often a matter of good genes and good luck.”

To question beliefs like the one’s listed above does not necessarily mean they are erroneous or invalid. However, inquiry opens the door to understanding more fully why we believe what we do and whether or not we want to continue believing it. Do the beliefs we hold serve us? Do they empower us or lead us to feel impotent? Do they lead to happiness or unhappiness?

  • “Be seen but not heard.” (Conclusion: What I say doesn’t matter.)
  • “I know better than you.” (Conclusion: I’m not intelligent enough to know.)
  • “You are too young to understand. (Conclusion: When I get older, I’ll get smarter – I hope.)
  • “Don’t question what I say; just listen.” (.Conclusion: Other people’s statements are more important than my own.)
  • “You make me unhappy.” (Conclusion: I have the power to cause unhappiness in others.)
  • “If you loved me, you’d keep your room neat.” (Conclusion: If I don’t do what my mother wants, it means I don’t love her.)
  • “Take the medicine or you won’t get better.” (Conclusion: Outside intervention is the only thing that will save me; I have nothing to do with my healing process.)

Once childhood and adolescence give way to the more mature years, then the messages appear to change, or do they?

  • “If you loved me, you’d be more caring or sexually active.” (Conclusion: I still have to do what people want in order to prove I love them.)
  • “You’ll never understand me.” (Conclusion: It’s not okay to disagree and have my own opinions.)
  • “You make me furious!” (Conclusion: I cause what others feel.)
  • “Can’t you do it right?” (Conclusion: I’m ill-equipped; there must be something wrong with me.)
  • “You can’t expect to be healthy forever.” (Conclusion: I have no control – disease and sickness are inevitable).

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