What’s something you used to believe that you have since changed your mind about? It’s an interesting question to ponder, forcing us to come face to face with the ways in which we (and our beliefs and values) have changed over time.
I used to think breakfast was the most important meal of the day. I thought if you skipped breakfast, you might as well call it a day — without food in your stomach you were as good as useless. Granted, I my “breakfast” was usually some form of sugary cereal with a cartoon mascot. Nonetheless, that was my belief for years.
But was it my belief?
Or was it an idea that got propagandized into us by commercials, doctors schools, and other authority figures? Did anyone ever question it? We kind of just accepted it as orthodoxy. Everyone knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It had a nice ring to it, after all.
Then intermittent fasting came along and blew that whole argument up. Now the doctrine in health journals seems to be that consuming all your meals in an 8-hour window is the most ideal form of living.
But, how do we know if that’s true either? It’s likely that intermittent fasting will be replaced by some other orthodoxy within five years.
It’s this constant shifting in headlines that’s made me realize ideas are ephemeral. They come, they’re useful for a certain period of time, and then they go, replaced by a newer, more informed idea. I’m using food as an example, but it applies to virtually everything — geocentrism (shout out Copernicus), censorship, economics, etc.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned that we cannot, and should not, be married to our ideas.
Instead, we should date them.
I once heard someone say, We don’t have ideas. Ideas have us.
And the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of them.
We should be like serial daters, constantly foraging for new ways of thinking. Seek out new ideas, but question them. Analyze them deeply.
I mean, truly, how often do you think about why you believe the things you do? How and when did you decide how you felt about gun rights, abortion, immigration, or how to define success? These days it seems people are more interested in telling others what they should believe rather than dissecting their own opinions.
Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.
I’m always astounded when someone declares expertise on a topic they likely know little about. They speak with such utter conviction. Naively, I used to take their word for it. This person clearly sounds like they know what they’re talking about. But more often than not it’s false confidence.
The wisest people I’ve met are always ready to learn.
A wise person knows that no one can know everything. They always stay humble and listen to others to gain more knowledge and information. When they do know something, you can spot it’s coming from years of experience on a subject, or more often than not, years of mistakes.
The know-it-all attitude can sabotage the success of many people, but a wise person listens more and speaks less. They learn from their mistakes.
Mistakes, after all, are the best teachers. One does not learn from success. It’s failures that cause us to examine what went wrong and how we can iterate to improve.
I love reading great philosophy and business books because they allow me to learn directly from other people’s failures, however, life lessons get much more firmly seared in when they are your own.
Our beliefs are critically shaped by our behaviors and current circumstances. If we’re not critically aware of what is driving our behaviors we can be easily possessed by these autonomous ideas coming from a psychic reality we have not truly fathomed. We then treat them as if they are our own making while all the time we are only possessed by them.
Your beliefs are the colored glasses through which you see the world. You interpret everything around you through those lenses.
The enlightened individual has strong convictions held loosely.
The benefit (and embarrassment) of maintaining a personal blog over the years is that I can look back at my thoughts as an eighteen-year-old and think, Was that me?
Several years ago I held particularly strong views and I was vocal about them. I would get contentious if someone refuted my points. I was arrogant. I thought that just because I read a few more articles on a subject and listened to a handful of podcasts, I knew more than my peers, and thus could spout the facts with an heir of confidence.
It wasn’t until I had a friend check me on my arrogance that I recognized my callowness.
He asked prudent questions that instantly put massive holes in my argument, and for the first time, I felt naked and exposed. After fully dismantling my viewpoint, he asked me a question I’ll never forget:
Do you think you’ll still feel this strongly about it six months from now?
It ripped me out of the moment. Did I believe these things wholeheartedly, or was I borrowing unoriginal ideas from the latest TV show, book, and podcast I consumed? Was this a breakast-is-the-most-important-meal moment?
It’s our circumstances that determine our perspective. My outlook as a single 23-year-old living in the city is probably going to differ significantly when I’m married with two kids in a house in the suburbs. In this regard, it’s important to remain open to the idea that not only will my circumstances change, but my behaviors and beliefs will likely be modified as a result.
Ideas are merely autonomous ethereal goods that we get to possess for periods of time.
Beliefs are not a sport
When I see people loyally praise a presidential candidate — wearing hats, t-shirts, pins, or another type of paraphernalia like they are some royal savior, coming down from the heavens to make everything right in their life — I think, “They’re married and committed for the long haul.” I’m likely not going to have a critical conversation with someone like that because they aren’t willing to admit the faults in their candidate’s logic. It’s like telling someone their favorite sports team or athlete actually has a lot of flaws.
No one is perfect. No IDEA is perfect. This is what we have to realize. There will never be a perfect political party, a perfect presidential ticket, or a perfect four-year term. I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe what you believe. In fact, I encourage you to believe in your principles strongly. What’s important, however, is not to shut the door on other ways of thinking.
Ideas are not monogamous. Ideas are malleable and need to be played with to adapt and grow.
Look back ten years and you can probably identify a few blind spots or mistaken beliefs you held at the time. Now, fast forward ten years from today… what are likely to be your current blind spots? What are you not spending enough time thinking about or perhaps even willfully ignoring?
Look, I get it. Nuance is boring! Isn’t it easier to just know something with 100% clarity?
It’s annoying to admit that we’re way less sure about everything, but it leaves a bit more room for change.
It’s essential to recognize that no idea or political ideology is infallible, and our perspectives can evolve. Instead of blindly committing to a particular stance, we should remain open to new insights and be willing to question our own beliefs.
So take your strong-held beliefs out to a nice restaurant and grill them like Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck.
Make sure you pay the bill too.