I am a contemplative type. While some people are primarily doers, I am primarily a thinker. This has its advantages (I rarely get bored standing in a queue) but also notable disadvantages (I rarely find myself standing in queues because that would require doing something like running an errand).
Knowing this about myself, I thought I had my beliefs all sorted out. Ponderings about the world and my place in it and how to make it better are on repeat inside my head. If I had to fill in a survey with the question: ‘Do you know what you believe in?’ I would have ticked the YES box.
Earlier this year I heard about the death of a friend of my friends via Facebook. As people shared memories of him and linked back to his blog, it revealed a man who was a deep thinker with strong beliefs, who committed very seriously to living by them. He died while climbing in the Peruvian Andes, an activity that was, by all accounts, an important part of a life lived in harmony with belief.
I contemplated this and paused to ask myself whether I was living according to my beliefs. Only, I came up blank when I tried to express what those beliefs are. I was especially surprised to discover a reluctance to commit anything more specific than ‘do unto others…’
As someone with an interest in politics, with a history of activism, who has dedicated my career to social justice issues, I’ve always just assumed that I’ve ticked the box when it comes to believing in something. But somewhere along the line I seemed to switch over to autopilot. I got on with life assuming that my actions were aligned with my values…some unnamed set of values.
Perhaps the autopilot happened as more of my daily life was spent negotiating and communicating the missions of organisations I worked for rather than expressing my own unadulterated opinions. Perhaps the more I understood the complexity of issues and implicit grey areas it became harder and harder to come down on one side.
Maybe autopilot is a fine way to live. It feels quite zen-like to move through life unburdened by a pre-committed belief system. But it also feels strange to identify as someone who lives a conscientious life without really knowing what barrow I’m pushing.
So I challenged myself to name one thing I distinctly believe in that shapes the way I live my life. Here it is:
I believe in humankind and our collective ability to improve ourselves and our world.
I can’t articulate it very well – I have no quotes from great thinkers at the ready to help me. But I do believe it, even when there is much evidence around to suggest that we are actively trying to destroy our world. Sometimes I find it hard to maintain this belief, but if I push myself to commit, I think we have great potential as a species.
Which is also why I believe in personal development – I believe in trying to be better versions of ourselves in ways that feel real and personally meaningful.
That’s probably why, as I write 99 tips for a better world, so many of them relate to how we live our own lives.
Have you checked out This I Believe?
What do you believe in?