The Anatomy of Belief

Danny - Fort Wayne, Indiana
Entered on March 18, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: change, question

This I believe, about belief itself: that changeability is as important to healthy beliefs as strong foundational roots.

It all started with a book, before bedtime, and my father’s lilting voice as he read to me. But this was no free ride. Soon enough, he was doing Hooked on Phonics with me, so I could read to HIM. That’s how it was with my father: When I asked a question, he never just gave me the answer, but helped me find it on my own. He never taught me what to believe, but gave me the tools to find truth for myself. I didn’t know it then, but this was the start of a lifelong philosophy, which has found me ever since keeping one eye on the words and the other on the author.

I learned that the wise of society spend as much time UNlearning as learning. I’ve cultivated humility, especially as regards belief: the certainty that is the hallmark of dogmatism, it turns out, does NOT befit the human condition, but an open mind does. (If my beliefs are worthy of me, then they can surely stand up to the scrutiny.) It’s about balance—balance between healthy skepticism and changeability of belief, remaining firmly rooted yet ever swaying in the changing winds.

A man who would be president once wrote to his nephew, “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal EVERY fact, EVERY opinion.” We have been warned of the dangers of the paved highways of majority belief by the Founding Fathers of our democracy, and our ancient Greek and Roman grandfathers as well. Humility and balance have illuminated Robert Frost’s roads less traveled, which, though at times lonely, has led to things not dreamt of in paved highway philosophy…

…like learning from silence: “Yesterday upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there,” goes a line from a William Hughes Mearns poem, and when he, wordless, spoke to me, this riddle did his silence bear: What is the difference between a learned fool and a humble teacher? The fool will set you down his own path, but the humble teacher will SHOW you his path, then return you to your own. I’ve learned that teachers come in many forms, and though I’d always been taught that the best student did more listening than talking, I’ve been surprised to also learn that the best TEACHERS never talk at all. So found a Shakespearean duke: “And this, our life EXEMPT from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing. I would not change it.”

This I believe, free from the dominion of others’ agenda and circumstance. This I believe, based only upon my own eyes, my own footsteps, and my own apprenticeships, not because my senses and intellect cannot possibly be wrong, but because ABSOLUTELY NO source of information stands unfiltered through the sense and intellect of those just as flawed as I.