7.14. Change How You Believe, Not What You Believe

It’s the how—not the what—that makes our ideological struggles so hostile and deadly.

In this series of videos, I’ve cast a lot of doubt on what we believe, and what we think we know.

I’ve argued that our systems of knowledge and beliefs are inevitably and inherently riddled with omissions, oversimplifications, distortions, shortcuts, and flat-out inaccuracies.

I’ve argued that it’s impossible for any ideology or institution to uniquely own or possess the truth.

I’ve argued that our sciences, our philosophies, our political ideologies, and our religions can’t be perfect, can’t be as absolutely true as they claim, can only be partial contributors to our big project of human inquiry.

But that does not mean I think you need to give up all your beliefs!

In fact, I think the exact opposite.

If you find value in believing what you do, if you see virtue and meaning in it, if you find it to be a force for good—you should keep believing in it!

The main argument of this series of videos isn’t that you should change what you believe.

Change how you believe.

Change what it means to believe.

We spend an awful lot of time and energy trying to change what people believe—and much of it is wasted.

Sure, white supremacists and other people with despicable beliefs need to change what they believe.

But do we really expect that we can convert all 7.5 billion people on this planet over to the same way of thinking?

Most people are good. Most people are finding the good in what they believe, using those belief systems to become a better person, and make the world a better place.

Where this goes off the rails is when we insist that billions of people have to believe exactly what we do.

The reason our sciences, philosophies, political ideologies, and religions insist on absolute obedience isn’t because they really have all the answers.

It’s because they’re participating in a great big social struggle for money, power, authority, and followers—a struggle in which they have to present themselves as better than all the rest, to get a piece of the pie.

So keep believing what you believe!

Who am I—or anyone else—to tell you what’s most useful, meaningful, or valuable for you to believe?

If it’s working for you, stick with it. If it isn’t, look at what else is out there. See how you can broaden your horizons, and find new beliefs that will help you live your optimal life.

But don’t fall for the seductive notion that one ideology has got it all figured out.

That you don’t need any other belief systems to complement it. Or that you can just give your brain over to one ideology, and stop being open-minded or humble.

Even if you believe in your religion, you can see the value in other religions, in science, and in other belief systems.

Even if your political beliefs largely fall on one side of the spectrum, that doesn’t mean your party really has all the answers.

Changing the how of believing is a lot easier than changing the what.

And it’s the how—not the what—that makes our ideological struggles so hostile and deadly.


This is the 122nd 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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