I’ll never forget the first time I had a to manage a religious nut. I’m not trying to be critical or facetious; he really was a zealot. Religion was all he talked about. And he pushed it on others whenever he could. Not cool at work, but I was right out of school and it didn’t bother me much. Besides, he was a good tech and a nice guy.
His only real downside, and it was a big one, is that he was so stuck on his beliefs that he really couldn’t see anyone else’s viewpoints or even facts that conflicted with his own worldview. And that transcended religion into other areas of his life. I believe it held him back career-wise, big-time.
Look, it’s one thing to be a good person with strong moral fiber, work ethic, and family values. If you want to call that a belief system, that’s fine, but I think of it more as a set of core values that define your behavior. To me, that’s not a belief system.
Belief systems are strongly held religious, philosophical, ideological or political views in the absence of conclusive data, pro or con. A common example is believing in God or an afterlife. Lots of people really need that sort of faith. Lots don’t. That’s cool.
The problem is when you hold beliefs so strongly that you can no longer be objective or reasonable. When you’re unwilling to question your own beliefs, consider alternative viewpoints, or consider logic or facts to the contrary, that will hold you back, big-time.
What I’m referring to – this questioning of beliefs and assumptions in order to prove or disprove their truth – is also known as the Socratic method. It’s the basis for critical thinking and the scientific method. Without it, we’d still be living in the dark ages. Without it, we’d all devolve into fanatics devoted to loony fads, magical remedies, utopian thinking, and pseudoscience. By my estimation, we’re already halfway there.
As a columnist, I’m obviously opinionated, but I’m more interested in using the Socratic method to question conventional dogma and find the truth than projecting my views. On the contrary, I’ve never been married to any particular system of beliefs. As far as I’m concerned, everything I think is true is subject to questioning – to be disproven at any time. Give me a decent argument and I’ll listen. You never know. That’s my attitude.
The next time you find yourself stuck on a viewpoint that’s unsubstantiated by fact, science, or logic, at least be open to considering the opposing view. There are no beliefs worth questioning more than your own. The stronger you hold onto them, the more you should question them.
Burning Man Image credit Christopher Michel via Flickr