This I Believe

Robert - Palos Park, Illinois
Entered on June 12, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: question

This I Believe – “Continually question your beliefs.”

The older I become, the more I notice that my beliefs are not always supported by what I would call the undisputed truth – or for that matter, even solid evidence.

It has taken me some time to realize it, but often what I maintain as a belief is really just an opinion. Granted, a belief and an opinion seem pretty much the same. Both are mental processes and seldom is anyone at a loss to express one or the other. But they are two separate words, so there must be some subtle difference.

I have studied the definitions of both words and I have to admit, the more I try to distinguish between the two, the more difficult it becomes.

In general, a belief is defined as the conviction or acceptance that something is true, whereas an opinion is a belief based on what seems to be true but is not necessarily substantiated by fact.

Sure, you’re probably thinking, “So what’s the big deal and why bother trying to make a distinction?” Well, I’m not sure if I can explain it, but I think the importance lies in the word “true.”

What troubles me is how often I find myself arriving at a conclusion – whether I call it a belief or opinion – without having the evidence to prove it is true. And although I suppose it’s human nature to form beliefs without trying to determine their truth, I don’t want to accept that excuse for my own shortcomings.

So, when I catch myself making snap judgments – particularly about other individuals’ beliefs, I interrupt myself mentally. Then, I remind myself that perhaps their experiences have given them the ability to better determine the truth, and I should reserve my judgment until I determine otherwise.

And, when I have a belief that a certain course of action in a complicated situation will result in a specific outcome, I try to think of the word, “caution.” In addressing complex issues with far-reaching consequences, such as terrorism, health care, and immigration reform, I realize the need to carefully scrutinize my beliefs.

Too often after hearing people espouse their beliefs, I have promptly dismissed them as either being too liberal or too conservative when instead I should have questioned my own beliefs on those issues.

After all, does any human being really have the ability to see the future and know which beliefs will prove true?

Admittedly, there is one belief I no longer feel the need to question – that is the belief that I am truly fortunate to be an American. For that privilege, and the freedom and opportunities which come with it, I will always be grateful. May the epitaph on my gravestone reflect that belief.

And although it would be an exaggeration to say that every minute of every day I am “continually questioning my beliefs,” it would not be an exaggeration to say I am striving to do so.