Sunday, April 18, 2010

Beliefs Become Reality

Over the last two weekends, I have put my piano skills to work accompanying about 80 beginner-level musicians at their solo and ensemble events. Students from several schools gather at a host school and take their turns walking into what is usually a math or social studies classroom and playing their piece (with their trusty pianist) for a judge who is usually a complete stranger. For some, it is a grueling experience, and for many of them it is a lot of fun. For me, it has been remarkable to see what adorns the walls of modern classrooms.

Certainly there must have been inspirational posters of some kind when I was a young student, but I don't remember what they said. Posters decorating the classrooms I was in this weekend had phrases like: Surround yourself with what you want to become. (It depicted a rather dull pencil in the midst of a forest of very sharp ones.) Another read: Character takes courage... it requires doing what's right, not what's easy or popular. Of course, some of the messages were about how to treat other people, and some were designed to build effective habits. My favorite of those was: If you don't have time to do it right, you must have time to do it over. The ones that most caught my attention, though, were the ones that were instilling beliefs that may not be conveyed in any other area of a person's life.

We don't outgrow some beliefs. Whether they actually serve us well or not, we hang on to some ideas about reality without any concrete supporting evidence. And sometimes we even cling to conflicting beliefs. We may believe that it's absolutely true that strong moral character is desirable and requires sacrifices. And we may believe that it's absolutely true that you have to cheat to get ahead in life. One of those certainly wasn't on a classroom poster, but many people pick it up somewhere. Just those two conflicting beliefs can wind up meaning intense struggle about identity and defining success. And we have hundreds and hundreds of beliefs that we have claimed as truths.

Claiming a belief is true doesn't really alter reality, though. Sure, some people get more money or a better career position by cheating. Yes, the choices people make in friendships have an influence on them. But it also takes courage to do something that doesn't seem "right" to everyone around you. And sometimes it may be important to get a task done without worrying about whether it's done as perfectly as possible. The bottom line is: I get to choose the standards by which I live my life. I don't get to define Truth, but I do get to decide what I'm going to believe. And that changes everything about how I live.

About a year and a half ago, I believed that I was trapped. So, naturally, I started working on getting myself out of the trap... only to realize that I wasn't actually trapped by anything other than my own picture of the way things had to be. When I started believing something different about myself, reality started to look different as well. I don't actually believe that reality changed, but what I was able to see changed. Being willing to dance with what was verifiably true opened up possibilities that didn't exist for me when I was claiming all kinds of things as truths, when they were actually just beliefs I had chosen.

More to come on recent developments. For now, one last poster I saw this weekend (quoting Henry Ford, I think) : Whether you believe you can or you believe you can't, you're right.

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