With the first Presidential debates coming up in the next week, I can’t help but think how we can all learn something from the candidates. Not so much from their views on issues, but from the way they communicate their beliefs, and their world-view. Things didn’t get this out of control over night. Our collective belief system in this country has been gravitating for years to the firestorm that fuels our political and personal atmospheres today.
In social media, and on the political scene today, the extreme beliefs that permeate our society have gotten out of hand. A difference of opinion is turned into a personal battlefield. Everyone seems to be more invested in being RIGHT, than in stopping to listen to the other side, learning something from it and then uniting our differences to come to a better or stronger solution.
The way our elected officials and the Presidential candidates behave towards each other and use personal attacks to prove their own righteousness at the expense of the rest of us has become the epitome of this mindset. For the past several years, it has plummeted to the level of bullying. Most of us, as parents, make every effort to prevent our children from succumbing to such acts. But if they are exposed to news programs about the election, debates or the political process at all (which I believe they should be) they are seeing adults behave in ways towards each other that have to be confusing to them!
Beliefs are important in our culture. We have each developed a set of beliefs by which we rule our lives. Even those who say they don’t have a strong belief system think and behave according to certain beliefs they’ve developed, whether or not they are completely conscious of them.
Beliefs are just thoughts we string together and think often enough for them to gain weight. The more weight they gain, the stronger the belief. These thoughts have developed from things our parents told us – and what we watched them do, what we’ve heard in church and school, in society at large, from our friends, and from things that have happened to us and that we have witnessed. Thoughts are some of the most powerful energy on this planet. (Notice I did not say they produce powerful energy – they ARE energy). But the point here is that we all think our belief is THE truth.
For this blog, I want to focus on our beliefs and how they manifest. If we’re conscious of this, I think it helps us to understand how we can manage our communication with each other in a more respectful way – with the intent to come to agreement, rather than just bulldoze our own agenda past the other.
It reminds me of the ancient story about the blind men who were told there was an elephant in their village. I’m sure you’ve all heard it, but I’m going to briefly share it here, just to make my point.
The men had no clue what an elephant was, but they decided they would go feel it because that’s the way they “see”. Each of them touched the elephant. One touched the leg and said the elephant is a pillar. The next touched the tail and said it was like a rope. Then there was the man who touched the trunk and thought the elephant was like a thick branch of a tree. The one who touched the ear thought it was like a big fan; the man touching the belly said it was like a huge wall. The last man touched the tusk and said they were all wrong because the elephant was like a solid pipe!
As they argued about the elephant, each insisting he was RIGHT and becoming very agitated, a sighted man arrived. When they told him what they were arguing about, he told them they were ALL right, and that the reason they each felt differently was because they had touched a different part of the elephant. When the blind men heard this, there was no more reason to fight.
Are you like the blind men? As I said before, we all “see” life through the lens of our own experiences, thoughts, and beliefs – which lead to our own perspective. That perspective is what drives our attitudes, how we feel and how we behave. Our focus tends to be pretty narrow. If I’m in a dark room with only a flashlight, the things I shine the light on are the things I see, and therefore the things that inform my beliefs. That is my truth. Someone else in the same room, might shine their light on other things, and consequently come to a different truth than mine.
But what happens when someone walks in and flips the switch to light up the whole room? Then we both have access to everything in the room. Those things have always been there, we just didn’t see them all. We each might see at least some of the same things the other was focusing on, and at the very least, we might begin to question the beliefs we had each developed and so strongly held onto. Might the other person have had a point to their perspective?
When we can remember that we each have our own truth, based on our own experiences and values – and can learn to explain how it effects us, it teaches us to be more tolerant towards others for their viewpoints. We also each have to be able to hear (and empathize) when others describe how their truth effects them. None of us is wrong when we can see where each of us comes from. We may never completely agree. We’re still going to have experiences that affect us strongly enough that we hold on staunchly. But we might at least be able to begin to work together to come to a more unified sense of truth for more of us. If we don’t, no one wins.
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.