Hey, everyone – how are you all doing out there?
If you’re a new reader of our blog and I haven’t had the chance to greet you before, welcome! If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, welcome back! You may have also been wondering whether you’d ever see anything new from me again or if I’d abandoned ship completely…
Well…what can I tell you? You probably already know that I’ve been sucked into the LifeRing social media vortex for a while (say, have you Liked our Facebook page yet? Are you Following us on Twitter?), but what you don’t know is that I’ve had a few things I’ve been stewing over for a long time, the past in year in particular. In terms of wrangling my thoughts into something resembling a coherent fashion – which in my brain amounts to a 3 ring circus where anything that can go around in endless circles will – I’ve been concerned with trying to express myself in a way you won’t find snore-inducing, offensive, or just plain bizarre.
Until now, I’ve done a little writing about it here and there, I just haven’t published any of it. It’s delicate subject matter intensely personal to all of us, so much so that it’s not something very many of us enjoy having total strangers who know nothing about us, nor whom we know much about, challenge: our beliefs.
Let me put it to you this way…
Have you ever believed something beyond a shadow of a doubt – would have staked your life and the life of your Grandmother on it – only to find out it was just an illusion?
Before you say “No, never, not me!” bear in mind that you and I both know this hasn’t been an uncommon occurrence in the history of mankind. Some examples of it could be something as simple as (quick, cover your kid’s eyes!) finding out Santa Claus is only a fictional character to discovering someone you trusted implicitly has a lot of best interests in mind, but yours is not one of them.
Makes you feel like a damned fool, doesn’t it? Me, I hate not knowing things, just hate it. It makes me feel like something I found of value about myself – i.e. knowing things other people need to know but don’t off-hand, such as where the bathrooms are in Lowe’s (in an effort only to be helpful, of course, although in some circles this is known as being a “busybody” or a “know it all”) – suddenly went in the discount bin, without my permission. It’s an unsettling, discomforting betrayal of the sort that will set one back on their heels and make solid ground feel awful shaky for a while.
But. These things happen to the best of us, especially when the illusion is artfully constructed or portrayed, and by no means make us faulty characters beyond hope or redemption. We’re an imperfect lot, us homo sapiens, pitfall prone, warts and all – but by god, we know what we believe in, and why.
Simply put, belief is an essential component to the human experience. Belief in oneself or another, for example, can make all the difference in someone’s life when nothing else will. Belief in things greater than oneself – or lack thereof – can, too. It’s how we tell our stories – about ourselves, one another, where we come from, where we’re going, why things are the way they are, and why we are the way we are.
Belief allows us to form ideals and principles which help us to connect us to one another and the world around us. It instructs, informs, and imbues our reality with meaning and purpose. It can propel us forward into exploration and discovery of new worlds or keep us rooted in our many and rich histories and traditions. Belief helps us succeed, helps us fail, helps us help one another.
For all of these reasons and more, we need belief with which to frame our experience as much as anything else in our lives. Like most every other facet of human nature, however, it’s a double-edged sword which colors our perceptions while it adds or detracts, benefits or harms, progresses or digresses, shapes and distorts our experiences in ways both positive and negative – and very often, both at the same time.
Where it gets all dark and twisty, though, is when we accept something as true without being aware of any factual evidence or basis upon which to do so – and everyone does it in some way or another, whether we’re aware of it or not. Don’t we make decisions about what we believe is true about ourselves, other people, situations, or environments every day?
But it can get especially messy when we cart these beliefs around with us until they become unshakeable parts of our worldview – and of who we are in it – such that no one could pay us enough to believe anything else. Even more fraught with peril still is when a bunch of like-minded individuals get together. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes, it’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. Sometimes, it’s a mob with torches and pitchforks.
Again, there is nothing uncommon about this quirk of human nature in our time here together on Earth, so far as I can tell.
Remember that time when almost everyone believed the Sun revolved around our flat Earth, even though Eratosthenes figured out it was round way back in 240 B.C., right up until those stinking heretics Copernicus and Galileo came along during the Renaissance and really screwed everything up?
Thank goodness for those pesky scientists, right? And yet…
Dig if you will the picture of “modern” medicine a little under a century and a half ago. Sure, we got by and everything, but did you know that doctors back then had no idea that they should wash their hands before, in between, and after caring for their patients to keep from spreading deadly infectious bacteria and viral matter from one to the other to the other (or, as was often the case, from the trusty educational cadaver to still-living patient)? And that even when Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a respected medical professor at Johns Hopkins University, discovered through observation and trial that was exactly the case, they still refused to change their practice?
Yeah, that’s right – his colleagues roundly criticized his silly little hand-washing idea, ignored him, and sent them both packing to the insane asylum he died in for reasons unthinkable today. Many of his fellows were incensed, for example, that anyone would dare suggest bacteria could be carried around on a gentleman’s hands. Really.
And then, having later found out his ideas were absolutely correct (which then gave birth to the study and proliferation of science at the cellular, microscopic levels, and ushered in the modern era of medicine, the universe, and practical living as we know it), you would think such a tragic chapter in human history would remain closed forever. Because after that. we would have learned our lesson and become hip to not ignoring shit at our peril, right?
Yeah, uh, hold up. Let us pause and reflect upon what we know now, and how such a simple little thing could have saved hundreds upon thousands of lives across the millennia if only we’d known about it – and then accepted the fundamental possibility of it instead of dismissing it because it did not conform to our previously held beliefs.
Mind-boggling, idn’t it?
Now, fast forward to our current age of enlightenment and reason. (Laying it on pretty thick there, aren’t I?) Does what eventually became known as the Semmelweiss reflex still figure anywhere in our thinking, culture, discourse – indeed, the very fibers of our being – to the extent it renders – yes – even reasonable, rational, thoughtful, intelligent, sentient beings into quivering blobs of dissonant, doubtful, ignorant, dismissive goo?
Why yes, yes it does.
And so, by now you may be asking, “Alright, fine, but what does all this belief business have to do with addiction and recovery?”
If you like what you’ve read so far, I hope you’ll join me in the next month (or so) for On Belief, Part II: The Conundrum. 🙂