What Do Anger, Beliefs, Values, and Driving a Car All Have In Common?
Our unconscious mind is more powerful than we give it credit for.
***This post is part of the “Beliefs and Anger” Series. Some parts of this series may make you uncomfortable. However, we are unable to truly change if our thoughts, beliefs, values, and decisions are never questioned. I know the topics of beliefs and anger are momentous, so each post is designed to help break down our anger emotions and what may be beneath our anger (i.e. beliefs), so we can collectively move forward. Each post may be read individually; however, reading all of them will give you greater insight into yourself and society. If you chose to read them in order, read them in the order they were posted (Congratulations America, We Have an Anger Epidemic is the first post). This is the last post in this series.
Staying in the safe status quo is damaging to society and to you in the long term. Do you really want to stay where we are currently are, anyways?***
A kid runs in front of your car, you slam on the brakes!
You’re shaken, but the kid is fine, and already across the street.
Those events happened almost instantaneously. You unconsciously knew where the brake pedal was and through memory you were able to act quickly. Now, if the car had “new and improved” functionality and the manufactures changed the brake pedal placement and it was now to the right of the gas pedal (closer to the passenger seat for cars driven in America), chances are pretty good you would have hit the child before you “found” the brake pedal.
Once you learn how to drive a car, you store the information in your unconscious mind. You can then use the information as needed; in this case, the unconscious information was knowing immediately where the brake pedal was.
Our beliefs, values, reactionary decisions (like slamming on the breaks), and our emotions and feelings all apply the same process. We store all of those items and more in our unconscious mind. We are able to access them as needed without consciously thinking: “I have to go retrieve information about how to stop by car from my unconscious mind.” or “I have to retrieve information about how to feel angry.” We are able to do those things automatically.
Our beliefs and values are stored in our unconscious mind, and may be slightly harder to consciously access at any given moment. Most of the time having them reside in our unconscious mind is to our benefit. Our daily tasks would be horrendous if we constantly had to consciously think about each belief or value before we could complete even a simple task. Most of us probably have a belief or value (or both) about avoiding hitting children with our vehicle. However on the surface we may label it being a responsible driver. If we had to think about what our belief is about hitting a child with our car AND think about where the brake pedal is, we would have hit the child. Because when we process information consciously, we do so at a slower rate than when we process information unconsciously.
What is a belief anyways?
Beliefs help us navigate the world. We hold beliefs about ourselves, others, and society.
Most of the time we unconsciously create our beliefs. The majority of our beliefs are actually created in childhood, specifically from birth to age 7, which the sociologist Morris Massey calls the Imprint Period. If nothing ever challenges the beliefs we develop in childhood, those beliefs can actually follow us through our entire lifetime.
Sometimes we need to consciously examine an old belief or value. Conscious examination allows us to change how we react to something. It is how we are able to evolve as a society. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), a famous astronomer and mathematician, believed the earth and other planets rotated around the sun, instead of the planets rotating around the earth, which was the popular belief at the time. He was eventually tried for heresy because of his belief. He had to recant his belief and findings and was placed on house arrest for the rest of his life. This happened because collectively the majority of the people held such a strong belief, that the other planets rotated around the earth they condemned any another person for believing something different. Enough other people had to consciously challenge the old belief before the rest of the people accepted the new belief. This particular societal belief also changed with the help of science.
However, not all beliefs will be changed by science. Some beliefs you maintain, are about yourself personally and depending on the belief, can help you achieve your goals and accomplishments. Jen Bricker is an accomplished gymnast. Her adoptive parents always told her she couldn’t use the word “can’t,” which instilled in her a belief that she could do anything. What is even more remarkable is Jen was born without legs. It would have been very easy for her parents to tell her that without legs she couldn’t accomplish certain things, like becoming an award-winning gymnast.
This video excerpt from an Inside Edition story is just a snippet of Jen’s life, and I highly recommend learning more about her amazing story. But I wanted to call your attention to an interaction she has with her father and this video captures it the best. When Jen is on the family trampoline (0:52 in the video) and she states she “can’t” bounce, it is her Dad who encourages her to try again. He uses the word “can.” Incidentally, Jen is 7 years old in the trampoline video, which correlates to Morris Massey findings as to when our beliefs are formed.
Then what are values?
Values can be separate from our beliefs; they can also be informed by our beliefs. Sometimes our values can change depending on the circumstances. Values are incredibly influential in our lives and, like beliefs, most are formed when we are young. Typically our values are formed from age 8 to age 13: the Modeling Period, as Morris Massey calls it.
To illustrate how values can entangle us, let’s consider a hypothetical example. Alex works in Industry A and values equal treatment for men and women. A scandal arises in Industry B involving accusations of harassment of women. Alex immediately comes to the defense of the women in Industry B.
However a few months later,a similar accusations arise in Industry A. Alex also values loyalty and may see the situation as an attack on the industry they are loyal to. Alex may unconsciously pick the value of loyalty over the value of equal treatment, especially if Alex has not been personally involved in the harassment claims against their own industry or has seen anything specific from the people accused of harassment. In addition, Alex might also believe in giving the people accused in Industry A the benefit of the doubt, after all Alex has spent a lot of time in Industry A. By speaking out against Industry B, and not Industry A, Alex may unconsciously feel safer in doing so. Speaking out against Industry B has less of a chance of damaging relationships in their industry or potentially impacting their career in Industry A.
While Alex appears hypocritical on the surface; this example illustrates the complexity of humans. Calling someone hypocritical without acknowledging the possibility of other values (or beliefs) at play will only aggravate the issue. Because the majority of our values are unconscious, a conflicting value may need to be gracefully brought to someone’s attention in the right moment. Unfortunately as a society our current trend is to jump to the extreme first and lash out at any “Alex ” by “screaming” at them (usually via social media) on how bad/wrong they are.
But by only showing anger to someone about a decision they made based on potential unconscious value or belief will only increases the chances of having them become defensive. When someone is in defensive mode they tend to look for reasons and examples to justify their position, even if those reasons and examples come across as irrational. It also may strengthen their belief that their values are consistent.
When we have the courage to begin to examine our own beliefs and values, and even our anger, we become more empowered than we ever knew was possible. Our beliefs and values can change when we see and understand the difference between our old values and beliefs, and where our new beliefs or values can take us. Allowing for them to creative positive change in our lives.
In this series
Changing Minds (for more on Morris Massey):
Now is the time to step up and persist.