Friday, October 24, 2014

"You believe that!?"

When I was a kid I knew who I was – I was a Presbyterian (and not Catholic).  I was  Czech (and not Irish).  I was male (and not female).  I was a Republican (and not Democrat).  My identity was what I inherited from my family and from my community.  Each one of these beliefs was like a fence by which I delineated who I was, and who I  wasn't…

Your beliefs can be like fences that surround you. You must first recognize the existence of such barriers - you must see them or you will not even realize that you are not free, simply because you will not see beyond the fences. They will represent the boundaries of your experience. Jane Roberts Seth

In the whole limitless range of what might potentially be possible; my family, my culture, and my time in history defined my identity... what I was to believe and what I didn't.  Thinking about this made me wonder about the beliefs that we all form, and how they influence how we live our lives.

My beliefs have changed since childhood – Now I see myself as liberal in my religious beliefs  and I have also become more respectful of other belief systems than my early childhood led me to accept.  The national origin of my family ancestors is somewhat interesting to me– but not a major part of how I see myself today.  

Arrival of immigrant people in America- my Zlatnik ancestors
I have come to find all human cultures to be interesting.  The beliefs and practices of us humans is generally  an outcome of our  environment and seeking ways to comfortably adapt to it.  I enjoy my life as a male – but I have grown to appreciate the challenges of women seeking equality and justice in this world often dominated by men.  Politically I have come to believe strongly in the principles of social and economic fairness for all – not just programs that benefit the rich and powerful.  I have moved my fences… and in some cases replaced high stonewalls for  flexible fences, free to be adjusted as I experience more of life.
Another way of being human

How do beliefs develop? How does one kid decide that he want to be a ‘macho’ tough guy and another boy makes the decision to become a doctor, while another wants to make beautiful music? ( 0f course one's idea of what is 'beautiful' varies a lot by culture)

The culture that we experience as a child shapes us. But that is just our starting point…Most people continue to change all their life long.  Our friends have a major effect on the identity we develop.  A kid growing up in a touch guy culture finds it easiest to ‘bulk up’ his body to appear tough, adopt the language of other tough guys, and to do what it takes to project that image – woe to the kid who strays from that behavior pattern… Another kid living in a different society may respond to new ideas and new experiences.  We all are influenced by key individuals or key experiences and will say – “Oh yeah – I want to be like that…” My Mother’s mysterious box of mementos from her years in China set in me a desire to travel and see far away places.

Ah Wilderness! (North Peak)
My Uncle John exposing me to the joys of adventuring in the high Sierra introduced me to a lifelong love of wilderness and wild creatures.  A college class in cultural anthropology opened my mind to approaching all human cultures with an open mind.    My encounter with the books of Marcus Borg allowed me to see my religious beliefs in a deeper more progressive way. .

As I have lived I have seen inequality and greed around me, the injustice of poverty, and have grown to support politicians who work for justice and fairness for all in our society.

What is this tendency of humans to disparage people with whom we don't share a belief pattern…?  Look at the inability for individuals to communicate between different political parties, between progressive and conservative Christians, between advocate for guns and those that despise them…

Why do many feel threated when they encounter Muslims, people with a different sexual orientation, even those that disagree about American cars v. Toyotas, kids that wear their pants to low, or advocate for Macs v. PCs?  We become invested in the fences that we build.  I’m sure that I wont change someone’s mind by arguing with him or her but I am still temped to. I have a friend that loves to argue about whether climate change is related to fossil fuel use or not.  I have another friend that I can not convince about the validity of evolution… and another with whom I disagree  that parts of the Bible can be true wisdom even if they didn't actually happen as written, but reflect the culture and beliefs of that time. 

Shock at another's beliefs

I can accept that each human alive developed under the influence of a particular micro- culture, formative experiences, and that each of us struggles to make sense of our world as we form a belief pattern that works for us.  There is security in knowing who we are and what we believe... its unsettling to be challenged. I am unique as are you… I can’t convince you that my belief pattern is just right for you… and you cant convince me.  My wish for you and me is that we can at least be open to hearing each other and perhaps adjust our fences if we hear something that seems reasonable. It’s hard to do that if I am thinking of my next response instead of really listening to what you are saying.