The Price of Beliefs

There’s a reason saints say: You want to be happy? Don’t add a thing to your life. Just give up your opinions.

Steve Roberts black ink drawing: person with block for head
One hundred fifty years ago this month (1861) our nation’s Civil War began.  More than 600,000 participants died because those with the influence to bring about such devastation trusted that they understood the mind of God––at least enough to create enemies and kill them.

Seventy years ago this month (1941) in Annapolis, Maryland (according to John McPhee in his essay “Spin Right Shoot Left”), the lacrosse team of the United States Naval Academy refused to take the field if Lucien Alexis, Jr., of Harvard did, too.  Alexis was black.  Harvard sent him home.  Of course, both institutions, I’m sure, were convinced they represented the noblest ideals of our nation, and indeed of humankind.

Surely we can all think of examples today of how such ignorance manifests itself…maybe even in ourselves, if you can believe it.

Guns don’t kill, even people don’t kill.  Beliefs kill.  Or to be precise, beliefs we hold onto vigorously.  Every tight-jawed conviction we have about how things “are” or “ought to be”––most conspicuously every belief that includes “us” and “them,” and the need to have “them” change for “us” to be happy––leads inevitably to harm, because it is born of fear we refuse to let go of.

It’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of even entertaining the possibility that how the universe works is beyond our mind’s capacity to grasp.

It is also the fear of one of the biggest deaths we will ever experience: that we as we know us will no longer exist if we give up the belief that our well-being is determined by other people and events.

These are just two of the fears that our holding onto triggers untold misery.

There’s a reason saints say: You want to be happy?  Don’t add a thing to your life.  Just give up your opinions.

Eating glass often seems preferable.

I love many ideas of the late Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), Nobel Prize winning philosopher, historian, mathematician.  Here are two:

  • “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”
  • “If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years.”

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The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth