2.14. We Can’t Keep Fighting Over Our Beliefs

What if, instead of working so hard to change what people believe…we devoted that energy to changing what it means to believe?

We like to imagine our problems today are the result of too many people believing the wrong things.

They need to be “educated.” They need to be converted. And if they won’t listen…well, then we just need to be a noble warrior for truth, and push ahead with our ideas in spite of them.

But here’s the thing. Our biggest problems aren’t with what people believe. They aren’t about ideas. They’re about our institutions.

Our biggest problems are with our corrupt, ineffective governments…greedy, rapacious businesses…vain, fearmongering journalists…floundering, overwhelmed schools…judgmental, hypocritical religions…and countless other organizations who seem only concerned with accumulating power, money, and authority for themselves.

We have so many rich traditions of knowledge and inquiry, so many wonderful sciences, philosophies, political perspectives, and spiritual traditions we can draw on to try to fix these struggling institutions.

They should be working together!

We should be mobilizing the insights, the virtues, and the contributions of all of our fields of inquiry to fix our institutions, and make the world a better place.

But they don’t want to play nice with each other. They want to run the show. They want to make themselves “right,” and any tradition that disagrees with them “wrong.”

They act as if they alone possess the truth. They act as if they represent the very pinnacle of human inquiry. They act as if there aren’t any flaws in their ideas…and nothing but flaws in anybody else’s.

I think there’s one big project of human inquiry. One big project of figuring things out, making sense of things, and using those ideas to create a better world.

Within this project are our systems of knowledge, beliefs, and ideas. Our sciences, philosophies, political ideologies, and spiritual traditions.

They’re all important contributors. But they’re all partial and limited. They’re partial and limited, because human beings are feeble, finite, and fallible—and so even our best ideas are riddled with omissions, oversimplifications, and distortions.

Even if you want to say, “I believe in my religion, because it comes from God,” it’s still filtered through fallible human minds.

Even if you want to say, “I believe in science, because of its methodological rigor,” it’s still a work in progress. It’s still limited. It’s still susceptible to errors.

Our brains are pretty awesome. But making sense of all that exists is beyond their capabilities. We have to rely on stitching together these little insights, little observations, little theories to come up with something that approximates the immensity and complexity of this universe.

What if, instead of working so hard to change what people believe…we devoted that energy to changing what it means to believe?

What if, instead of having a battle royale among all our belief systems about who’s right and who’s wrong…we recognized that they’re all important—yet partial—contributors to this common project of human inquiry?

What if we finally admitted to ourselves that we’re screwing around, endlessly going in circles with our beliefs as our institutions are failing—and it’s only going to be when we channel those energies into working together that we’ll be able to fix our institutions?


This is the 42nd in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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