What do you hold to be true? Why did you choose these beliefs? Do you act
according to those beliefs? Perhaps you believe particular widely-held
values that provide an excellent standard for judging
right and wrong, good and bad, important from trivial. Perhaps you have other
values and believe something else.
Knowing yourself requires a careful examination
of your own values and beliefs. What are they? How did they originate? What are
they based on? Why do you hold these beliefs? Are they based on reliable
evidence? Are your goals and actions consistent with your
beliefs? How do your beliefs align with
your values? How have they evolved over your lifetime? How do they help you live
a gratifying life?
Adopt a robust theory of knowledge and use it to
carefully choose your own values and beliefs.
- A statement, assertion, or theory you accept as true.
- Our basis for deciding, choosing, and acting.
Myths and Misconceptions:
Many people profess beliefs that are obviously false. Here are some of the
more destructive and common examples:
- I had no choice.
- He made me do it.
- That's just how I am.
- It's all my parent's fault.
- It's all your fault.
- If we don't talk about it the issue will disappear.
- The past constrains the future.
- Denial is a solution.
Discard these unhelpful and false beliefs along with unhelpful
primal rules that may be harming your decision making.
An assumption is an unfounded belief. Assumptions are unchallenged, unquestioned,
unexamined, and very often untrue. Many terms describe unfounded beliefs including:
rumors, myths, legends, folk-lore, blind-faith, and wives-tales.
Our bias, prejudices,
ignorance, and experiences manifest in our assumptions. Apply your theory of knowledge to challenge rumors
and assumptions before basing decisions on them. Stay curious. Don't be gullible, don't be
Possibilities and speculations may become firm beliefs after
and exploration transform assumptions into opinions and
opinions into facts. This is the substance of
Each of us approaches a new idea, information, rumor, proposal, or explanation with a
particular presumption. This presumption can range from a very unlikely,
dismissive, and skeptical
stance to a very likely and accepting stance. This presumption is
plotted on the vertical axis in the following diagram, ranging from unlikely at
the bottom, ranging through possible in the middle and extending to likely at
To determine the truth of a belief we assess the correspondence of this
belief with reality. As we become more curious about the proposal we can learn more about the
evidence that supports or contradicts its accuracy. Our understanding of the
evidence begins to increase as a result of our inquiry and exploration. As more and
more information becomes available, we become better informed and create a more
accurate understanding and assessment of the situation. This accumulation of
evidence is plotted on the horizontal axis in the following diagram. It ranges
from unexamined on the left to examined on the right.
The colors on the grid indicate more reliable and authentic regions in blue, and
less authentic regions in red.
The most authentic path is the blue region across the center of the diagram.
Beginning on the left, a new idea is proposed, and we begin with the neutral presumption
that it is possible. We suspend judgment and
even resist forming an opinion
until we can gather more facts. As we begin to ask questions and explore the
evidence we learn enough to begin to form an opinion—a preliminary or tentative
belief. If the evidence is scarce, ambiguous, or contradictory we may not be
able to gather enough support for or against the idea to confirm a particular
belief. If the evidence is clear for one position or the other, we can form a
belief, and perhaps even a firm belief. Along this path you are diligent, you know what you know and how
you know it. This path applies your well-founded theory
of knowledge and leads toward
As an example, consider how your belief in the existence, importance, and
causes of global warming may have evolved. Perhaps you first heard of the issue
a few years ago and did not give it much thought. After hearing about it a few
more times, you may have become curious. You probably did not know enough about
the issue to form an opinion, so you suspended your judgment. Alternatively, you
may have heard an opinion from a credible source and adopted that position as
your own. As you learned more and more about the issue, perhaps you began to
believe the issue was real, and important, but did not yet believe it was caused
by human activities or that it would be consequential in your lifetime. You
remain curious, you see the movie An Inconvenient Truth, you attend geology
and environmental science lectures, read books on the topic, discuss your understanding and doubts with
informed friends, follow the issue in the news, and read some scientific papers on the topic. Eventually you
come to believe, then firmly believe, the problem is urgent, important, and
caused by human activity.
But we often take other paths toward establishing our beliefs. We may be
skeptical and begin with the assumption that that idea cannot be true. We defer
our beliefs until more information is available. We demand proof. This is a cautious course and
is prudent unless we act as if our skeptical assumptions are well
founded beliefs. As we gather some evidence supporting the idea, we remain
doubtful. As further inquiry and exploration uncovers more supporting evidence,
we may eventually begin to believe. Alternatively, we may hold stubbornly to our
disbelief, dismissing, discounting, or distorting evidence contrary to our
original presumptions. We are obstinate, holding onto our disbelief despite
clear evidence supporting the new idea. This is the territory of the flat earth society,
Holocaust denial, moon walk conspiracy theorists, and other closed-minded people
who choose to deny clear evidence. Ignorance often thrives here.
A more foolish path is often taken. Here a gullible person is ready to
believe almost anything. Rather than pose critical inquiries or examine
evidence, they believe the rumors, hoaxes, myths, legends, fantasies, innuendos,
and other preposterous claims, ideas, accusations, and proposals. Rumors are
passed on, gossip is treated as fact, and too often the truth is never uncovered
or even sought. Even as evidence mounts contrary to the idea, they remain
perhaps even detached, defiant, or contemptuous. If further evidence is
gathered, perhaps opinions can mature into well founded beliefs. But too often
the idea is firmly held onto despite clear contradictory evidence. This is
the fantasy land of blind faith, alien abductions, demonic possession, and
Consider the range of beliefs people have regarding life after death. Direct
evidence for or against life after death is minimal or non-existent. However,
many people hold firmly to this belief. Elaborate and detailed descriptions of
the afterlife are studied, propagated, discussed, defended, and often relied on. Other people
simply dismiss the whole idea for lack of evidence. Passionate arguments on this topic are commonplace, and
it is remarkable how determined people can be in defending their own assumptions
Know how you know. Don't be seduced by assumptions, challenge them instead. Don't
ignore or dismiss evidence, be guided by it. Don't rely on blind-faith, inquire
How does passionate love so often turn into bitter divorce? The firm belief
of “I love my wife” can eventually and precipitously become “I really hate
her.” Here is a theory:
A cautious style of decision making, shown in the blue region in the diagram
above, is to reserve judgment; wait until
you have gathered and evaluated lots of representative and relevant
evidence, then carefully form an opinion. As you
gather more evidence that opinion becomes a firm belief. But the more common
style is to presume the decision early, then to filter and
distort evidence to support that decision. This is
shown along the top red band, extending from “gullible” to “fantasy” in the
Consider how this decision-making style might apply to the belief: “I love her.”
You meet a woman and are enamored with her. Passion helps you quickly decide she
is perfect and you love her with all your heart. You
enjoy time together and are willing to ignore, or explain away any of her
shortcomings. Even when she stays out late, comes home drunk, tells transparent
lies, and gambles away the family savings you distort
the evidence to support your position of “she is the perfect woman for me.”
Eventually the accumulation of evidence prevails. Your opinion changes, perhaps
because of overwhelming evidence, or just a change of heart. Your viewpoint
suddenly flips from “I look at the evidence in a positive light” to “I look at
this in a negative light.” Suddenly the evidence fits better with the new
viewpoint. The spin quickly unravels. Now your opinion is “she is a bitch” and you have all the respun
evidence to prove it, and you can also spin some more.
Furthermore, you are a bit humiliated because you
held onto your “I love her” position too long, well beyond what the evidence
could support. You are ashamed to think “How could I
have been so blind, so stupid, not to see what was really happening.”
Similar shifts in thinking can quickly transform pride
into shame or guilt;
envy, jealousy, or
compassion into contempt
or gloating; hope into
sadness, fear or
joy; and fear into
People are all human. We each have many
outstanding qualities and many shortcoming. Establish an
authentic, balanced, complex, integrated,
evidence-based, and evolving understanding of your lover and your
self. Take the bad with the good and continue to
refine and strengthen your relationship.
Beliefs vary considerably from one person to the next. The website
ThisIBelieve.org maintains a fascinating collection of thousands of
proclaiming the beliefs
of many thoughtful people. Perhaps you will enjoy reading some.
Professed Beliefs and Actual Beliefs
We can only determine what some else professes to believe. We can never know
what they truly believe. Comparing their behavior with their professed beliefs
can provide clues to their true beliefs.
- Your beliefs become your thoughts / Your thoughts become your words / Your
words become your actions / Your actions become your habits / Your habits
become your character / Your character becomes your destiny ~
- “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.” ~ Francis Bacon
- “Who cares about common sense when you've got righteous indignation on
your side?” ~ Lee Iacocca
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” ~
“What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know; it's what we know for sure
that just ain't so.” ~ Mark
Shared Values for a Troubled World: Conversations With Men and Women of Conscience, by Rushworth M. Kidder
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, by Martin Seligman
Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief,
by Lewis Wolpert
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me),
by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life,
by Todd Kashdan