Unfortunately, many people have beliefs that, for the most part, were instilled in them from either their upbringing or from the society around them. Many times, a persons political views, religion, ethics and such are a result of indoctrination or the so-called ‘herd-mentality’ (in other words you adopt a belief because everyone else has that belief. Therefore you reason ‘if everyone else believes this, then it must be right’)
However, just because you were taught something from birth, or because everyone around you believes this – that does not make it right. Of course we can always use the common past examples such as the widespread acceptance of slavery, or the belief that the earth was flat, or the idea that the stars were really just holes in the sky where heavens light shone through.
What I am trying to say is that questioning ones beliefs are important. How many of your so called ‘beliefs’ are really authentic? By this, I mean how many of your beliefs are really a result of your own choosing? Did you chose to believe this due to your own will after carefully examining said belief – or do you hold this belief because it was taught to you from a young age and you can’t bear to think what life would be like without said belief?
One of the important parts of philosophy, and of self-discovery, is questioning your beliefs, finding out which ones are important to you, and which beliefs you find meaningful. I have developed a little method for questioning ones beliefs – a method that I often use, though I admit it is simplistic and highly unoriginal, though it works.
Firstly, make a list of all the ‘beliefs’ that are meaningful to you. What do I mean by ‘meaningful beliefs’? Well, perhaps something like “I believe murder is wrong”, or “I believe in God”, or “I believe that polygamy is wrong” or “I believe that we should all treat each other fairly” – things of this nature. Just think about what beliefs you hold to be true and a part of your being – the beliefs that define who you are. The belief system that you would want to pass on to your children. Your religious (or lack of) beliefs, your ethics and morality, you political views, your beliefs on love, or on revenge – stuff like this.
Now the list may be fairly long, but that is a good thing! The more beliefs the better! Anyway, once you feel as if you have a sufficient amount of ‘beliefs’ written down, the next step is try and figure out where these beliefs came from. What I mean by this is try to examine the beliefs you have written down and ask yourself “where did I learn this?” I mean surely you learned this somewhere correct? You weren’t just born thinking “I believe that taxes are wrong!” No, somewhere along the line you ‘acquired’ or ‘learned’ this belief – but from where?
Obviously you will not be able to give a fully detailed or accurate account of the origins of each belief – and this is fine. After all, some beliefs were probably taught to you when you were only a child and so you no longer remember when you learned them. Nonetheless, this part of the inspection requires speculation. Speculate where you think those beliefs came from. For example, any religious beliefs of yours were likely passed down from your parents/family – so if you write “I believe in God”, then you would likely write down “acquired belief from parents/church”.
Discerning the origins of your beliefs is perhaps the hardest part of this method – but it is essential. You just try to figure out how and where exactly your beliefs formulated. Perhaps your political beliefs are a result of your friends, or perhaps your belief that cheating is wrong came from a personal experience where you were cheated on. Some beliefs might have more than one origin, in the sense that a particular belief was acquired in one way but modified in others (i.e. your parents told you that drugs are bad, and you believed this, but one time you did a drug and had a bad experience – thus your belief that ‘drugs are bad’ has come from both upbringing and experience). Try and find the origins of the beliefs you have written down to the best of you ability!
Now, after you have written down your beliefs and the (supposedly/speculates) origins of said beliefs, the next part is to make a list of pros/cons for each belief. Now this is the part that requires you to step outside of your comfort zone. Obviously, coming up with “pros” for your beliefs will be easy – after all you believe in them so there must be something appealing about them. No, the hard part of this tasks is coming up with the “cons”. I guarantee that if you think hard enough, and really step outside the box, then you can come up with a cons for your beliefs.
For example, I personally believe that attachment only leads to suffering. What is a con of this belief? Well, I suppose that believing that ‘attachment only leads to suffering’ can cause one to detach from everything and become lonely, or it may make a person apathetic and reluctant to get involved with others – since one will associate any relationships with eventually and inevitable suffering.
See? That wasn’t hard was it? Now it’s your turn. Make a list of the pros/cons of your beliefs. Find out what part of the belief is possibly good, and what part of the belief is possibly bad. If you are having trouble coming up with cons, then (and I recommend this only as a last resort) Google your belief and cons for it. For example, if you believe that murder is wrong, and you are looking for a con for this, perhaps Google ‘why murder isn’t wrong’ or something like that. Again, I prefer you didn’t do this just yet, but if you must then you must.
Now, just to retrace our steps, you have made a list of your beliefs, followed by an analysis on the origins of the beliefs, which was then followed by a list of pros/cons of each belief. Now, your job is too like over these beliefs and truly question them. Perhaps one of the cons you wrote actually made sense, and now you are doubtful of your once cherished belief. Or perhaps, after seeing the origin of many of your beliefs (likely you inherited them from society or your parents) is an indication that you are indeed not unique- but merely a product of your environment – another sheep in the herd following the crowd.
You may be thinking ‘but what was the point of making a list of cons? If I believe in these things then obviously the cons won’t matter.’
– I disagree! The reason I had you make a list of cons is simple – by doing this you were essentially questioning the validity of your belief. You looked at your belief and thought “what is a negative aspect of this belief?” Most people never do this. Most people simply believe what they are told to believe and never think “maybe there is something wrong with this belief”. Yes, by making a list of cons you were essentially questioning the beliefs you had.
Now, after you have done all this, I want you to really ask yourself “is this belief true? And is it really relevant to me?” Really question your beliefs! After all, you now have list of the origins of your beliefs, so you can essentially see where they came from and how you adopted them, and with a list of pros/cons you can see if your belief is really as beneficial as you thought it was. Now – now is when you ask yourself if these beliefs are true, and if they really matter to you. Perhaps, after doing this task, you realize that one belief actually seems a little unreasonable or dislikable. Perhaps the belief you held in high esteem a few days ago has now become a belief you are fairly suspicious about.
Doubt is good! Suspicion is good! Discontent is good! If you feel uneasy about this then I must say you are on the right path! When one questions the beliefs they have had all their lives- one will inevitably feel shaken and discomforted! In fact, I will say this – the more uneasy you feel after this exercise the better! If you feel discontented it means that you did a good job on the exercise – you’ve actually questioned your cherished beliefs and are now *gasp* having doubts about them! Ahahahahha!
The point of this exercise was simple. To show you that many of your beliefs were imposed on you from an early age by either your culture, parents, or peers. Your probably conforming to many of society’s standards simply because ‘everybody else is doing this too’. This exercise also attempts to reveal that there are two sides to every belief (obviously it is much more complex than a mere ‘two sides’, but let’s just role with this analogy for the sake of convenience). Again, this exercise showed that there are pros/cons for your beliefs, and perhaps, after further inspection, you are realizing that your pros are rather weak and your cons are perhaps rather convincing. Now, after all this, you truly question said beliefs and ask yourself “is this true, and is it really what I believe?”
I would like to note that this was meant as a starting exercise. This method is just to get you started on the path towards questioning your beliefs! The task now falls largely on you! You must now do the extra research, the introspection, the meditations and examinations of your beliefs. It is a lot of work, and at times it can be very unsatisfying. But then again, nothing great is ever achieved without struggle.
Question your beliefs! Examine them! Scrutinize them! Become discontent! Become uneasy! Destroy the world you have been conditioned in and create new one from the ashes!