Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Beliefs and Values

April 6, 2009

When we are very young, we get our belief systems and values, whatever they may be, imparted to us through our parents or other influential adults in our lives. We see what they do, and how they behave, and hear what they speak. For some of us, the teaching is direct, and for others of us, the teaching is more through example, or experience.

For most of us, the teenage years are a process of beginning to question those core value systems. Some question those values in a loud and vehement demonstration that rejects all authority, some do it in a quiet, introspective way. There's lots of in-between, too. There's no question that that's why the teen years can be such difficult ones to traverse, both for the teen in question and the parents involved.

Now, admittedly, there are some who never delve much into questioning their parents, and there are some who do a complete 180 just to spite their parents, rather than through a conscious choice to adhere to a particular belief set. But for most of us, at that age when we are starting to come into our own and are beginning to navigate the waters of adulthood, we begin to see that, "Because Mom and Dad say so" is not a strong enough basis for a belief system. We want to know WHY. We begin to weigh the merits of this belief over that one, and why we should choose to behave in a particular manner and not in another. We decide what makes sense to us, and what perhaps needs a little rethinking in our own minds to sit comfortably in our own psyches.

Some of us ultimately come back to a values set that is remarkably similar to our parents' and some of us stray about as far as we can go. More often than not, though, it is a middle ground where we find ourselves, adapting to a new era, a new generation, a new social set of circumstances. What I find interesting, though, and not just a little disturbing, is the view that because I believe a particular thing (about religion, about philosophy, about social policies, about politics, etc.) that may be different than someone else's belief, it must be because I am blindly following someone else's values set (my parents'?) and not my own.

I am my own person with beliefs that I have wrestled through and considered deeply. I have asked the questions why? and why not? I have questioned the way in which I was raised, and the impact it had on me as a human being, as a person with a tiny place in this grand universe. And yet, I do not claim to have all of the answers. I do not claim that anyone who believes differently than I do is wrong, or is blindly ignorant, or worse yet, stupid. I can recognize that if someone's view of the world is different than mine is, there can be merit to that viewpoint. As long as one's beliefs don't infringe on the freedoms or well-beings of other individuals, I am open to hearing those viewpoints. If, ultimately, I disagree, it doesn't mean that I think that person is, by default, a blindly following sheep. I can respect their line of thinking--I can respect them as a person--without having to agree with their world view.

Ironically, I am not always met with the same open-mindedness. I resent the implication that because I don't hold exactly the same belief set as someone else, it must be because I am not intelligent enough to have considered the 'right' answer. There are those who say with derision (or worse, pity) that I have derived my beliefs from my parents and the way I was raised. It's amazing to me to think they believe they are not influenced by their upbringing--it is impossible to objectively dissociate one's self from one's childhood; of course we are all influenced by it. There are those who say because I hold this belief or that I am an ignorant follower--and yet they want me to, without question, follow their lead, because they have the 'right' answer? I welcome questions, I welcome intelligent discussion, and I welcome dynamic interaction that leads us all to a greater understanding of where we are all coming from. This is how we define and redefine why and how we believe what we believe. These conversations cannot be held if one side is only interested in mocking the other. It's interesting (and sad) to me that those who often claim to be the most 'open-minded' because of their 'progressive and unique views' (shared by many, often including their own parents) are the ones least interested in engaging in real discussion.

Like most parents, I hope to show my children what I believe about religion, philosophy, social policies, politics, etc. Even more than that, I hope to show them why I believe such things. Part of that why will be because I believe that no human being has all the 'right' answers, and that by being truly open to others' ideas, we all continue to grow and gain new insights. I don't want my children to blindly follow my lead, or anyone else's. I want them to know that it's okay to question why, and as a matter of fact, I want them to question why. Most importantly, I want them to know that when they have beliefs and values that sometimes come into conflict with mine, as I know they will, that I welcome an open, honest, and intelligent discussion with them that does not belittle or demean either of our viewpoints. There are too many other people in the world who want to make life's discussions a battlefield.


  1. Hi Donna. Yet another great blog! I really enjoy reading these.

    The interactions between other people have always fascinated me. I often wonder how one person could be 'brought up' so apparently different from someone else who grew up just a few houses away. It's interesting, really. You laid out, very well, the various things that differentiate each of us from one another. How can one person be someone else’s friend when their views (values, morals, ethics, politics) are so seemingly diametrically opposed?

    I agree that we obtain most of our preliminary beliefs and values from our parents. They teach us the ropes, per se. However, religion was most surely my primary foundation for my beliefs and values. Sure mom and dad had their say in some topics but I truly believe it was those many bible studies that formed the basis for my core value system. Not that my parents didn't teach me anything, they most certainly did, religion just fortified my core.

    I didn't grow up in a political household. I really didn't have any political 'leanings' until I joined the Navy. No, the Navy didn't teach me anything about politics that I didn't already know. I just started to listen to things at around that time in my life. I guess I kinda started to care.

    Every American is entitled to their opinions, beliefs, values etc. This is the most basic of the freedoms that we enjoy. People that I know very well seem to have forgotten that MANY American's have died to preserve those freedoms. They seem to take for granted that we have these freedoms and frankly that pisses me off. Some would try to have people believe that we didn’t need to have those deaths to have our freedoms. I wonder what motivates these people.

    I digress. (I'll save this for one of my many soon to be released blogs :-) )

    Unless their beliefs are just plain WAYYY out there, I'll listen. I may not agree but I'll listen. Someone who wants to discuss or debate a topic without having the proper information is really going to be outgunned unless they’re prepared. I won't discuss/debate something unless I know a good amount of the details. Getting your information from the evening news or a snippet on the radio is NOT how to be educated about a topic. I tend to end up getting into a discussion where someone has to resort to name calling or making derogatory remarks to "make their point".

    Why do folks do this? I think it's because they've been 'found out' and aren't willing to back away from the discussion (perhaps to < ahem > save face?). I think this is why people resorted to name calling during elections. I really got tired of being labeled a hick, gun-toting, bible-thumping Republican. I would never thump on the bible; I have way too much respect for it. :-) Telling me that someone is “just stupid” because she's pretty is rather tired and lazy (not to mention sexist). Just give me facts. I can deal with facts.

    Some of my friends are open-minded, some aren't. For some reason I tend to get looks of horror when I get into a discussion and take the contrary (read: conservative) point of view. I think the way I think based on my life's history. I'm not a lemming nor will I ever blindly follow anyone or anything. And I most certainly will not make excuses for how I feel or what I believe. I think that as long as people are honest with each other they can be friends no matter what their beliefs.

    This is why I too want to make sure that my child understands why I believe what I believe. At age 13, she already knows that everything she reads, watches and listens to will ALWAYS have some kind of slant to it. It could be slanted in the political, religious, ideological, environmental, etc. etc. etc. She's even starting to learn that even something as solid as science is not immune from those slants. So long as I keep talking and responding to her questions, she'll always have a sounding board onto which she can bounce ideas off. She already understands how the whole political system works in our country. She also knows how easy it is for those in charge to take advantage of that system. This is a sad state… but I have hope. Perhaps our children will grow tired of all this. Maybe they'll take the reins and steer us all back onto the right path.

    I remember telling my daughter the stories of the revolution (not the Beta/VHS one). I remember the scared and curious look in her eyes and the questions that she had. I want to make sure that those questions keep coming and that she never stops searching for answers and information.

    I look forward to the day that I can debate these “big” issues with my daughter. My guess is that it'll happen in the next few years.

    I guess I better get ready.

  2. Mike,

    This is the reason I write--to engage in discussion. I really appreciate that you took the time to not only read, but to respond with such a thorough and thoughtful response. No matter whether our beliefs on a particular topic are the same or very different, I know that if you and I are in a conversation, I'm speaking to someone I know has carefully considered his position. That's the kind of person and the kind of conversation I can respect, and that's ultimately what promotes more of an understanding of each other than an us-versus-them mentality. No matter what the issue, no matter if we come to the table from different sides, I will always welcome a chance to sit at the table with you, so to speak, and start the conversation.

    (I love, by the way, that our daughters are fairly close in age. We are both already well into that journey where we are watching them come into their own beings. It's very cool to hear Bree formulate and articulate her own beliefs and ideas. And at the end of the day, that's probably the way in which many of us are most alike--as parents, hoping to see the world at its best through the eyes of our children.)

    Thanks again,