The Irrational World of Belief

In 1997, Marshall Applegate, one of the self-made leaders of the Heaven’s Gate cult purchased Nike, black Cortez, high tops for the final footwear of his disciples but it doesn’t really matter because he and thirty-nine members of his followers after stepping into their new shoes, took a deadly dose of phenobarbital and ended their lives in a mass suicide. After the incident, Nike discontinued the shoe for obvious reasons.

The Nike swish symbol on the high tops of those that died is a reminder that belief in a product or the charisma of a cult leader can seem downright ludicrous, but are we as susceptible to extreme beliefs? What makes us any different? By the way, many of our beliefs in Nike made the company thirty-two billion in sales for 2016 alone.

The cult tragedy is an extreme example of why we believe so much in things, ideas, and people to create purpose and meaning, but we’re all susceptible to believing what we think is our truth.

Our values, attachments, and ego keep us buying, believing, and defending our beliefs even if they’re completely irrational.

In the context of healthy relationships, the need to tread lightly when someone’s beliefs are discussed is paramount when it comes to developing a frienship that will foster healing. The need to keep the lines of communication open without over challenging someone’s beliefs is critical.

We tend to put-up-our-dukes when confronted in a hostile manner towards our belief systems or by someone with another agenda, despite rational, and empirical evidence to prove otherwise.

In therapy, we need to remember to approach beliefs very empathetically. In the spirit of therapy, here are five tips on how you can gain more understanding and allow greater communication for each other’s beliefs.

1. Allow suspension of belief.

That’s that hard place where you have some evidence, but you’re not entirely sure that it’s absolute truth but you’re willing to be ok with not having all of the answers right now. Allow time in your quest for seeking truth.

2. If we get on the defensive, we might challenge other’s beliefs simply out of spite.

At this point, ego is taking charge of our communications and the irrational fear of being attacked becomes a subjective reality. Our dukes are up! Our fists are flying!

Taking control at this point means walking away from the conflict or coming to some kind of stalemate until you gain control of your rational emotions again.

We have to prepare for this one prior to coming into the situation that’s going to challenge our beliefs. Practice in your mind, the worst case scenario so you can get ready to use empathy and understanding when faced with the challenge.

3. Our values dictate our deepest beliefs.

Our values run so deep that they dictate what we perceive and do in an instant. In fact, values seed belief and at the core, they’re what we live for.

It takes much effort to change a value and that’s why beliefs can hold us hostage despite all the facts and evidence to prove otherwise.

4. We need to search high and low when understanding our beliefs by speaking less and listening more.

We have two ears and only one mouth, so we need to listen more and speak less if we want to understand another person’s beliefs.

5. Seek out different beliefs other than your own so you can gain perspective.

We need to understand where people are coming from, and it might be hard to take the time to understand what you don’t understand, but we need to sit with the opposing views and gain a clearer view of one another.

In conclusion, the final act of The Heavens Gate cult was a sincere tragedy because we will never gain a better perspective of their beliefs nor will we really understand why they chose suicide as their final belief, but just remember, when we buy our favorite sneaker, worship another person, or follow another idea, realize that your beliefs are what carry you through all of these pieces that make up the puzzle of life.