Belief should be something indescribable, it should be something you can’t properly explain, something closely related to Faith. Belief is not the same as thinking, or having an opinion. Belief is what you know without proof, without explanation. It is something you know but don’t always have the words for.
When you make a statement of belief, it is appropriate to have difficulty when trying to give details about it. I’m talking about real belief here, not the type of belief that is really just an opinion hidden by the word “believe”. I believe green spaces are necessary, I believe Iago was good and honest once, I believe that detective stories are great to read on long car rides. Those are ideas I could defend with evidence and textual citations. Those are the aforementioned opinions and not the “belief” I’m talking about. I’m talking about those statements which are grand and all encompassing: I believe in Love, I believe in God, I believe chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. Why? Just because I do. I can’t explain why, but I feel truth in those statements with my entire self.
When I began this essay, my original drafts all focused on real beliefs. I believe in childhood. I believe that the best way to live your life would be in the company of gypsies and magicians, a la Fifth Business. I believe in second chances, and I believe that the worst way to die would be by being stabbed in the eye. I found these to be impossible to write about. I would get three sentences in and then run out of things to say. I realize now that I was having trouble because those are things I properly believe in. I couldn’t just put my belief on a piece of paper and then say, “and here’s why!” I couldn’t even say, “and here’s a fun anecdote that demonstrates it!” I tried, but nothing felt right or true or worthwhile. Every essay I wrote turned into this wandering drivel that wasn’t worth the time it took to read. It felt like a shame (that I was somehow wasting my beliefs because I couldn’t share them), and I felt like I was failing (maybe myself, maybe my beliefs, maybe my professor, because I couldn’t write anything good and I wanted very badly to be impressive), and all because I couldn’t articulate my beliefs in an essay any longer than 100 words.
What I ended up with was an essay written about an opinion. It was about children and my immense distaste for how loud they are. I hated that paper. I submitted that essay to my professor with a note that said, quite literally, “I hate this piece.” I couldn’t stand it. I was supposed to write an essay about something I believed in, and instead wrote about something I thought. I don’t think I recognized the distinction at the time, but that was the problem. In my heart of hearts, I knew that essay just wasn’t right.
I started this essay with my belief. I stated it and then I stopped. If I had tried to explain it, I would have ruined it. So instead, I gave examples and an anecdote that explained how I came to this belief-y conclusion, all the time cleverly managing to not clarify the belief itself.
If I could tell you why I believe what I do, then I’ve written another wrong essay. I believe that if I could describe my belief to you, then I wouldn’t truly, in the end, have believed it.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.