Why do we cling so hard to beliefs even in the face of evidence that we are wrong?  This is a question that a lot of folks are asking these days as it relates to political beliefs, but let’s get real, we hold on to all kinds of beliefs and ideas that are purely irrational.  Sometimes the false beliefs may serve us in some way, in other cases they don’t.

However, what is important is for us to realize that we may believe something that is not based on fact but that we are “choosing” to believe it for some other reason.  Recognizing that fact gives us the power of choice — and to move towards possibly changing our minds.

Trump’s Tribe

Now, this topic has come up so much lately because Donald Trump has made so many false statements…both before and after his election…..and it doesn’t seem to matter for many of his fans. There is an obvious core of individuals who will disregard his lies or somehow justify them away.  If you are not a fan of Trump, it is hard to understand such thinking. (However, we need to keep in mind we may be doing the same thing in some area of our lives.)

This ignoring Trump’s lies without regard was highlighted for me recently by this highly partisan take on Trump’s dishonesty.  A quick quote from the article: ” I view Trump’s following as more of a cult-like organization than a group of people who back a politician. We’re talking about tens of millions of people who never… ever hold him accountable for anything he says or does. If he lies, they make excuses for him. When he does something that he’s attacked others for doing, they claim that he’s not a hypocrite. When he breaks a campaign promise, it’s always everyone else’s fault, never his.”

The article goes on to laundry list of 16 egregious things that Trump has said or done that his followers have had to simply ignore or explain away.  The list is interesting and is probably incomplete.  But this begs the question, why do his followers turn a blind eye to his lying?

Ever Wonder Where Your Blind Spot Is?

Most of us don’t like to think about where we may be believing something that is not ultimately true.  When we occasionally bump into information that contradicts our ideas, we go to great pains to remove the “cognitive dissonance” by ignoring it or justifying it somehow.

I do like to challenge myself on occasion and say something in an inner dialogue like…”hey, you have invested a lot of time, money, energy, etc. into this belief of yours that the world works the way you think it does and that certain political directions are the best for that viewpoint….is this belief still true for you?”

Although I don’t generally change my core beliefs about the world, I have had to look at political actions when evidence shows them to be wrong.  I have especially had to reconsider my faith in the actions of both certain political and religious/spiritual leaders that “I believed in” when they began to display certain ethical shortcomings.

However, even letting go of such things as support for a certain person can be tough….we have staked part of our “identity” supporting such people…..we have developed a “tribe” of friends and contacts who “believe” in the person or their positions…..sometimes ignoring the evidence is easier than letting go of our identity or tribe…

Evolution and Belief

I highly encourage you to go read this thought provoking article from The Atlantic.  It includes a good summary of some research and thoughts around why we are resistant to changing our minds.  Here is a key takeaway:  “from an evolutionary perspective, there are more important things than truth.”  In other words, we all think we want to know and proclaim “the truth”, but the fact is there are certain times we accept less than what we know is “the truth” for other, more important, reasons.

Consider this scenario:  You walk into a dark and see what looks like a snake.  From an evolutionary standpoint, it is better to react as if it were a snake and protect yourself….even it is simply a rope.  “Better to be safe than sorry” the old adage goes.  Safety in the moment is more important than truth of what the coiled up item might be.

But as this article points out, things are more complex than simple safety.  In fact, we could probably find times that we sacrifice the truth to meet many other needs on Maslow’s hierarchy. For example, which is more important—-“being right” or maintaining “social support”?  Many of us want to stay in the safety of our tribe even if it means pretending to believe things that are clearly not accurate.

I used to feel negative judgment towards people who held certain religious beliefs.  I grew up surrounded by a lot of fundamentalists Christians.  There was a lot of social pressure to conform to what they believed.  After all, I was going to “go to hell” if I didn’t believe.  That’s a lot of pressure, social and metaphysical.  When I could not conform to their beliefs (my truth was more important than the social support), I lost a few friends.  The pain left me with a lot of resentment towards people who believed in “Jesus as our Lord and Savior”.

However in time, I began to realize that “there but for the grace of God, go I” when I see individuals who believe differently from me, whether it is fundamentalists of any faith, science deniers or material scientists who deny a non-material world….and even Trump followers.  In other words, if I had lived their lives just as they had, I would probably believe as they do.  Their beliefs are a result of many factors that served their growth and evolution. That recognition and hopefully a degree of wisdom allowed me to forgive them if they harmed me (maintaining healthy boundaries, of course) and to let go of my negative judgment towards them.

I must also add that studying the concepts of Spiral Dynamics and  realizing the potential fact that we evolve through a series of worldviews that are the best fit for our life circumstances also helped in this regard.  I highly encourage folks to study the theory and see how they might apply it in their understanding of life.  I write frequently here about the topic, it is that important!

Self-Limiting Beliefs
But beyond religious and political beliefs, lets also remember that we humans also tend to cling to a whole load of false things about ourselves that serve to both limit us and our expression of our abilities in this lifetime. Consider these common false beliefs:

  • “I can’t follow my bliss or my dreams because I need to make a living.”
  • “Who am I to write a book? Be a musician? Change careers at this point in my life?”
  • “I have to stay in this relationship that is harming me because how would I survive otherwise?”
  • “I am not worthy to do what my heart calls me to do.”
  • “I don’t deserve to be happy.”

I could go on, but I think you get the picture…..

What self-limiting belief do you hold?  What do you tell yourself about yourself that keeps you from living the life you really want to live?

It’s easy to judge others that we see are holding onto false beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence, not so easy to face our own false beliefs……after all, they have kept us safe most of our life.  If we really challenged ourselves or followed our real dreams, we would have to face many fears….fears of what others would think of us….fears of failure…..fears that we might lose friends….

It’s time to face our fears, release any evolutionary desires to play it safe…..and evolve to higher levels of personal being…..states of experience where we don’t just “survive” but instead we “thrive”.

Letting Go!

So are holding onto a political belief or a spiritual/religious belief that somehow your life is telling you is just not right?  Are you continuing to follow some leader even though the evidence is piling up that they are not in true integrity?  Are you continuing to tell yourself that you cannot live a fulfilling life because you are not worthy of doing so?

There are a lot of reasons that we hold on to such false beliefs…..many have served us from an evolutionary standpoint……many simply keep us in our “comfort zones” and avoiding confronting the bigger issues in our life……

But no matter what the reason we hold onto something that we know is not in our best interest, the steps to letting go of it are always the same:

Awareness—recognize in your consciousness that you are believing something that life is telling you is not true.

Choice—recognize that you are always at choice.  You can continue to hold onto the false belief….but now you are doing so with a greater awareness that you are choosing to do so for certain reasons.  Or, better yet, you can make a new choice.

It may be tough….but you can let go of false beliefs!

Mark Gilbert

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If you have read this far, why don’t you check out my other writings? Here are all my 4 books available on Amazon including the popular Becoming a Spiritual Change Agent and Our Spiritual Evolution (available in paperback and Kindle versions). Also, be sure to follow Conscious Bridge on Twitter and Facebook!
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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Foter.com / CC BY-SA