Belief is a Choice
Each of us likes to think we believe what we believe because the evidence dictates it.
But if that were true, wouldn’t each of us believe the same things?
We call one person a romantic and another a realist, and we secretly think the realist to be more valuable, do we not?
Labels are powerful things. To call someone “a realist” is to accuse his or her counterpart of believing in things that are not real.
But are honor, courage, virtue and love not real?
My experience has been that we become less frustrated and more likeable when we embrace the fact that belief is a choice.
“If you want to believe in something, then believe in it. Just because something isn’t true, that’s no reason you can’t believe in it… Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most: that people are basically good; that honor, courage and virtue mean everything; that power and money – money and power – mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil. And I want you to remember this; that love – true love – never dies. Remember that, boy. Remember that. It doesn’t matter if they’re true or not, a man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in.”
– Hub McCann, played by Robert Duvall, speaking to his nephew in Secondhand Lions
Evidence does not dictate belief.
Belief is always a choice.
This came pointedly to my attention as I was assembling my chapter for a collaborative book, Poetics of Re-accentuation: Don Quixote in film, theatre, and modern literature.
The basic idea of re-accentuation is that every generation makes and remakes the image of Don Quixote to reflect their own worldview. (Indy Beagle has assembled, in the rabbit hole, a list of those of you I quoted.)
I can summarize my chapter in 2 sentences.
- Perhaps no story has ever been changed to fit the measure of its readers so much as Don Quixote has been changed to fit 21st century businesspeople and entrepreneurs.
- Businesspeople tend to see Quixote as a symbol of the irrational and unyielding optimism that is essential to every visionary entrepreneur.
But this interpretation of Quixote is not universal:
Two of the friends who shared their thoughts and feelings with me wrote brilliantly about how the delusions of Quixote hurt everyone around him, particularly those who loved him most.
One of these writers was a family counselor. The other was an accountant. (Is our career choice a reflection of how we see the world, or is our worldview shaped by our career?)
I agreed with these two friends because they were entirely correct.
And I agreed with all those who said the opposite.
In truth, each of us is a romantic and a realist.
The human brain is divided into competing halves. The realistic left and the romantic right. This is why we’re so often at odds with ourselves, torn between two ways of thinking.
“Outwardly we laugh at the absurdity of a man jousting with windmills, thinking them to be giants. But inwardly we crave Quixote’s sense of mission and purpose, his dedication to a cause, his willingness to pay any price to achieve the honor of his beloved, the entirely imaginary Dulcinea.
So who is the silly one? He, for seeing beyond what is, to serve a beauty that could be, should be, ought to be? Or me, for remaining trapped in a black and white world where little men hide behind technicalities?” – Roy H. Williams, (2005)
This concept of multiple perspectives is easy to embrace as long as we’re talking about Don Quixote and Secondhand Lions, but what happens when the conversation grows more personal?
“Given the current level of anger, we are in danger of becoming a monster in an attempt to destroy a monster. Without a return to civility in our public discourse, I fear anger may well escalate into violence right here in the United States.”
– Richard Exley,
Aug 23, 2016, as Donald and Hillary rush headlong toward November
I can agree with Richard’s statement without having to know anything about his politics.
I hope you can, too.
Roy H. Williams