Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Everything You Believe Is Wrong ... Maybe?

What do you believe?

Okay, that’s great. I’m glad you believe in something. Now why do you believe that?

Well, don’t just sit there with your mouth open. I can see your half-eaten Twinkie in there. Just answer the question.

One day a couple of years ago, I looked in the mirror and asked myself those questions. I sort of knew a few things that I thought I believed, but like most people I only believed those things because I had always just “believed” those things. I couldn’t answer the second question. I almost choked on my Twinkie.

When you are on a path of rediscovering what life is all about, it opens up a lot of time and necessity for self-reflection.

On my journey, when I started doing some soul searching, I began to ask a lot of questions. Why did I believe the stuff that ruled my life.

As children, we are taught a set of values. This value system is built over time mostly through our parents, but to a lesser degree through teachers and peers.

Like muscles, these values just kind of start growing without us having to think about them to much. We exercise them each day without much of a conscious effort.

Those values pretty much guide us through life. They are things like: love, work hard, have fun, save money, security is good, etc.

There are also some rules we learn along the way. They are things like: be nice, don’t pick your nose in public, love your parents, love your brothers, respect your teachers, don’t play in the street, and leave the neighbor’s empty bottles of Boone’s Farm in the trash can where they belong and don’t bring them home to play with. Most of the rest of our lives we will live by the values and rules we are taught as children. But then we also learn a set of beliefs that guide our lives as we grow up. These are things like: the history of our country and our world, how to live a good life, where do we come from, what is our purpose, what is right and wrong, etc.

It’s this belief system that I had to question and challenge for my own sanity.

Let me give you an example.

I didn’t really grow up in a church setting. Off and on throughout my childhood, I would attend a church on occasion, mostly to hang out with my friends. Then when I was a senior in high school, I started going to church on a regular basis. I found a nice little Baptist church down the road that seemed to give me what I needed (Editor’s note: His girlfriend attended the same church). I didn’t really know what Baptists believed so I started to learn.

Each week, I would sit in my pew and listen to the sermon. I started to develop a belief system just from the message of those around me. I didn’t ask for it, it just happened. It happens to us all.

And a lot of the stuff I didn’t question. I believed it. That was it.

But did what I believe really match up with my values and my set of rules?

These experiences cause us to look at everything around us through a set of filters. Our filters come from our belief systems and what we’ve been taught and experienced.

I like to think of it like photography.

In the old days of photography, people would put certain filters on the end of their lenses for different effects. Some filters take out certain color ranges to accentuate other colors and make a photo more vibrant or warmer or cooler.

These filters can take an ordinary photo and make it spectacular.

They can make a photo look spectacular but they don’t change reality. All a lens filter does is alter our perception of reality. If a filter makes the red in a sunset really stand out, it doesn’t mean the sunset is any more red in real life. It just looks that way in a photo or on a computer screen.

In someways, it’s really just deception.

That was my life. I was deceiving myself into making myself a new person. And that’s what got me off my own personal life path. I needed to find my way back and that meant backtracking down the path that lead me here and asking some questions. I needed to root out these deceptions and get my life back.

So, that’s my tip for you this week. This is the first step of my treasure map and maybe it will help you come up with your own map to find your life.

We “learn” so many things as kids that sometimes we can never get that filter out of our heads. The filter we put things through that tell us if something is right or wrong, pretty or ugly, normal or abnormal, just or unjust.

Whether we know it or not, everything we are confronted with on a daily basis gets put through that filter. Sometimes it’s good to slow down and question the filter. Why do I really think this is right or wrong? Why is this “cool” and something else is totally “bogus”?

I’m not suggesting abandoning morals (the rules and values) we’ve developed over the years, but I am saying it might be worth skipping “conventional wisdom” every now and again and asking questions. It might even make you stronger in what you do believe.

But maybe we’re looking at life all wrong. Maybe these new experiences can be looked at through a new filter, or perhaps no filter at all.

Maybe the photograph is just as beautiful without the filter. And perhaps the unfiltered flaws and defections of reality are just as beautiful as the filtered version we learned as a kid.

So start asking questions today. Maybe your first question should be, “Who does this guy think he is?”
I guess I better leave you with that. I can see some half-eaten Twinkies out there.

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