I received a lovely gift from a friend the other day. In the card, she wrote, “I know you don’t believe, but I do.”
I’m also engaged in a fascinating conversation with a former student about the way we “know” things. He posited the idea that students don’t know how to formulate opinions, that the “don’t know how to believe.” That led to my asking about what a “belief” really is, and I told him that I think the problem we’re having is – again – language. What does it mean to “believe” something? We struggle with the nature of knowing as it is; the idea that is pretty pervasive in our culture at the moment is that “belief” can mean “knowing” a range of things – even things that are demonstrably not so – but, because it’s a “belief,” it should be respected and honored.
It is old news to anyone who’s known me for more than a few days that I am antagonistic toward religion and religious doctrine, but I think that people think that because I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in anything. That’s simply not true.
Here, then, are ten things I believe. Until I’m offered evidence sufficiently compelling to change my mind, these are things that I think are true and important.
1 “Family” doesn’t mean “blood.” With the exception of my children and my sister, none of the members of my family are related to me through genetics. Richard Bach put it this way in his beautiful book, Illusions: “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
2. It takes exactly the same amount of effort and energy to be happy/positive than it does to be sad/negative, BUT the returns on the positive energy FAR outweigh what one gets back from being negative.
3. People can change. Mind you, they often DON’T, but they CAN if they have sufficient motivation and are given the right conditions and support.
4. Education is the silver bullet. There are a lot of things that go into success, but I think that underneath all of them is the need for a strong, comprehensive, rigorous education. Following along with that belief is the belief that we’re doing a singularly TERRIBLE job with this one.
5. Education is learning HOW to think, not WHAT to think. The most important thing I got from my education (scratch that; the most important thing that I’m STILL getting from my education) is a facility with inquiry. I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know something. I’m curious and, thanks to my education, I know where to go for reliable answers to my questions. I am not threatened by the knowledge or experience of others; in fact, I seek out and admire people who are smarter than I am (and am honored when they share their knowledge with me).
6. We have a duty – yes; an obligation – to try to make the world a better place. I truly believe that, and I make a lot of my decisions based on what kind of ripples my choices will make.
7. Kindness is a practice. One can – and should – develop a habit of simple, everyday kindness. Hold a door. Merge. Take turns. Offer to help. Smile. Say please and thank you. It costs you nothing, but it makes a huge difference.
8. Friendship – true, meaningful friendship – can be cultivated online. I’m thinking specifically of Gerry, Rick, Michael, Eddie, and Jamie and Shana, but I’ve been lucky to find some really good and reliable friends through the internet – both on my blog and through facebook – and I challenge anyone to tell me that these aren’t “real” friendships.
9. People operate from two basic places; fear or love. Fear makes us ugly, hateful, and greedy. Love does the opposite. Choose love, wouldja?
10. Science is teaching us that the stuff that makes up our bodies is so chemically similar as to make us essentially indistinguishable from one another. For all that this is true, though, there has never been – and never will be – another person exactly like me (or you!). There is something wondrous and unique that animates these bodies we’re living in, and I believe that the thing that makes us who we are is energy. Since energy can neither be created nor destroyed (more science!), I don’t believe that there is “nothing” after we die; our energy has to go somewhere. I don’t pretend to know what happens to our energy when our bodies fail, but I do believe that our essence persists. I don’t need to believe in a god to believe that we are, in and of ourselves, divine. While I don’t always succeed, I try, every day, to honor that in everyone I encounter.
What do YOU believe?