A belief is just an opinion until it’s been tested and challenged, and even then it takes the knowledge of all sides of that idea to make the belief strong and complete.
You can’t believe in something unless you know you don’t believe in the opposite of that belief. To know you don’t believe in something, or that you do, you must know the entirety of the arguments surrounding that topic. Many people go through life only listening to ideas that they agree with, and many do not listen at all. But unless one understands other perspectives or thoughts, one cannot be truly educated about a belief. I can easily sit back and observe the world while formulating as many opinions as I want, but they will not become beliefs and will only stay weak opinions unless I actively seek to test them. The opposing sides to an issue, may, in the end, make more sense than my original belief.
I have heard many people say: “I believe in such and such.” But do they completely believe in what they say they do? If their belief was challenged, would it change? If it did, it is just an opinion. Opinions change quickly. But it takes a well-formulated opposing belief to make people doubt or question their own principles.
A belief can be compared to a tree. The leaves are the ears, which soak in knowledge, allowing the tree to grow. The branches that clutch to these leaves help up the weight of that knowledge, and break when the wisdom they bear is faulty. The trunk is the part of the belief that is exposed to people – the part that they will challenge and, sometimes, try to cut down. The roots of this belief are what keep it standing, even in the gustiest of winds. They are what keep the belief alive, and even if a challenge breaks the trunk in two, it is still possible for the roots to grow a new tree if they are deep enough. But this new tree will be slightly different from the first; one that will not be as susceptible to the test that broke it. To have a complete belief, and not an opinion, one must have all aspects of it – the knowledge, the adversity, and the strength to stand strong or bend if needed.
I believe we must have faith that the roots of our beliefs go deep enough to keep them alive, and that the canopy of leaves is sufficient enough to nourish them. We must have faith that these beliefs can stand alone in the middle of a field without falling, even if they are subject to the strongest of storms.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.