For almost 2 years now, I’ve considered myself a vegan.
But lately, I’ve decided to stop doing that.
Don’t get me wrong. I will not change my diet. I will still not eat anything a vegan wouldn’t eat. And I won’t use my money to support companies whose behavior towards animals (including humans), I don’t condone.
Basically, I will do all the same things a vegan does. But I won’t be one anymore.
Does that sound like exactly the same thing to you?
Well then read on until the very end, my friend... The reasoning behind it may be liberating for you as well!
The Function of Beliefs and Ideologies
Every day, you get overwhelmed by a shitload of choices you need to make. Ranging from:
• What to eat for dinner
• Whether you should go on a date with this person or run for the hills
• Which of those 2 articles that are both based on scientific studies but arrive to 2 conclusions that are the complete opposite of each other you should believe most.
Imagine you’d have to take the time to carefully evaluate every choice you had to make in your life. That would be a very inefficient strategy. Because there’s hundreds of mini-choices you need to make every day. And they would slow you down so much that you’d get very little done.
So to make it easier, we each create a sense of guiding principles to live our life by (whether we know it or not), to make our life easier. This is our personal ideology, that is based upon things we believe are “true” or “right”.
This ideology is not the same for everyone, as evidenced by that one person who takes the last piece of pie left on the table without feeling bad about it (that would be me, but pie was a terrible example because I don’t eat it), or the person who will not take it simply because they believe it’s the wrong thing to do.
Luckily, we don’t always have to come up with all these rules and beliefs ourselves. There’s a whole bunch of books and people who can inspire us or give us ideas. And often these ideas are great.
When Beliefs Become Identity
There is nothing wrong with believing in something.
Most religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Capitalism, Democracy, Atheism …) have a tremendous amount of wisdom in their message that can help you make better choices in life. Then again, virtually all of them spice up that wisdom with an equal amount of bullshit as well.
But people rarely take these different ideas out of their context to form a nuanced opinion. They have opinions about Capitalism for example, but not about all the different aspects of it in isolation. Most people (myself included), usually take the entire ideology that contains the ideas, and decide whether they love it or hate it.
When people are talking about “Islamic terrorism”, they’ll either say that Islam is a horrible religion, or that it is a very beautiful culture and that “those terrorists” are by no means “true Muslims”.
We like to make black and white statements like that. Because they add to our ability to make quick in-the-moment decisions about which opinion to have and what is good vs. What is evil.
But at the same time we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Why not look at the whole tub and conclude that it’s a religion that contains a lot of wisdom, but also a lot of ideas that can lead to harmful behavior. Just like Christianity.
There’s nothing wrong with taking the parts of it that you like, without subscribing to the entire ideology. Most belief systems have a lot of ideas that contradict themselves anyway.
• Why not take all of the constructive, positive behavior that is include in Christianity (the golden rule, for example), without turning the other cheek to your rapist, or marrying someone you don’t even know is a match in the bedroom yet?
• Why not take some awesome ideas from Buddhism (like not identifying with your thoughts, and practicing meditation), without robbing yourself of bodily pleasures like sex and a certain degree of materialism?
• Why not implement all the positive habits and behavior of vegans, without adopting the incredible sense of moral superiority most of them feel towards meat eaters?
All of these ideologies have amazing value that can make you a better and a happier person (yes, even Satanism includes things like that).
But it’s when you become a Christian, when you become a vegan, or when you become a Satanist that things start to go awry.
Because once a belief becomes part of your identity, the game changes. From that moment on, you no longer make all your choices and decisions based on what’s the right thing to do. Instead, you’ll make them based on “What’s the most Christian thing to do here?”, “Was my Facebook comment vegan enough?” or “What would Satan do in my situation?”
But there’s an even bigger problem that comes with making a belief part of your identity, and that is that your ego will now start defending it:
Normally, as we get older in life, we start growing up and get a more mature view on things. This is the result of the fact that we keep learning new things and acquiring new information that allows us to update our map of reality, and get a better understanding of things that allows us to move through life more effectively.
However, when you think that one of those little dots or lines your map (in other words: one of the beliefs you have that you consider true) is actually you, you will fight to the death to keep that belief on your map.
Because if it would no longer be on your map, your own identity would be gone from that map you made of everything you know in life, and according to your mind, you would no longer exist. Can you follow?
When you identify with an ideology, any information that is actually true but threatens that ideology is interpreted as a threat to who you are. It is no longer your opinion that is at stake, it is your entire personality. So any information that challenges its unquestionable “rightness” will now be refuted and attacked. Even if it would be the golden nugget of wisdom that you’ve been waiting for all your life.
And there’s the problem…
• What if you became a vegan to reduce your environmental footprint and someone came up with a more effective way to do that, that would only considered 90% vegan?
I’m not saying such a thing exists. But if it did, and you identified with the ideology of veganism, your new mission in life would become to convince this person that veganism is better than his idea, and preferably make him feel like a horrible person in the process for not being as vegan as you. Which is too bad, because he was actually helping you with the original reason you adopted veganism in your life.
• If you were a hardcore democrat, and a republican came with a superior solution to the problem you care most about… Would you vote for them?
• What if you became a Hindu because you hoped it would make you happy, and some psychology professor shows you a way to become even happier, but to do it, you have to stop believing in any gods. Would you still do that once you started “being” a Hindu?
Now a different question… Would you be willing to listen to that guy if you did not have any attachments to the idea of being a Hindu, but instead were just a normal person who tends to put some of the awesome ancient wisdom of that religion into practice?
I think you know the answer.
If you are not the kind of person that follows the rules of a certain religion / subculture, you may have been nodding along here.
It’s something we do a lot, right? We read something and then we say “yes, that’s the problem with those other people” (I’m equally guilty of this by the way 😉 ). Well most of the time, we have the exact same problem in a different disguise.
No matter who you are, religious or not. This advice still applies for “regular folks” like you and me in our day-to-day lives.
Beliefs That Are Not Part of an Ideology
You don’t have to consciously subscribe to group think to have beliefs in your head that are tangled up with your sense of identity. And when this happens, it will always cause trouble.
For example, from the moment I got into pre-school I was branded by teachers as am intelectually gifted kid. Luckily, my parents were aware of the trouble this can cause, so they stopped the school from getting my IQ tested and went through serious efforts to stop every teacher from calling me that, separating me from the rest of the group, or treating me differently. Still, the same thing happened in every school.
This saddled me up with the completely fucked up belief that I was smarter than other people, which I identified with. That means I always thought I knew better, which is a terrible strategy if you want to continue learning about the world. And when I was depressed, I couldn’t see it was my responsibility to climb out of that hole. Because I could conveniently blame the rest of the world for “being stupid” and see my depression as the result of being the only sane person left in a crazy world.
Not a very empowering point of view, huh?
Ironically, it was only when I stopped identifying with that belief that I start to be humble enough to learn new things and train my own mind again. Now I’m definitely smarter than everyone else.
Kidding of course 😉 It continues to amaze me how much I can learn from just about anyone. Including people I used to think were wrong, CEO’s, and homeless junkies, so what I now do is remind myself that I'm probably no more intelligent than the next guy, I was just framed that way in the past.
Just like I used to believe that I was gifted, there’s probably a lot you believe about who you are, that is causing trouble for you.
• Maybe you think you have fat genes and it’s that exact belief that keeps you from reaching your fitness goals?
• Maybe you think you’re not a relationship kinda guy, or take pride in being a bad-ass playa. But consider this: If suddenly you met your soul-mate… Identifying with that belief would actually ruin the whole thing for you.
• One of the best examples of this I encounter are people who believe they are socially challenged. Especially when diagnosed with something that makes it even more part of your identity (like assburgers).
If that’s you, think about this the next you encounter a social situation and open your mouth (or not) only to have the vibe turn awkward.
That’s not who you are bro(sephine)… That’s what you’re doing!
You don't have fat genes, your family probably continues to raise its members with unhealthy habits while blaming external circumstances. And you can break the cycle. You're not socially incapable. You just have to learn some skills that come naturally to other people.
Sure, in both cases you may have gotten a bit of a setback at birth in these areas. And that makes it a little harder for you. But that doesn't have to define who you are. All it does is define your starting point.
And the same can be said for nearly everything… Your lack of empathy, your jealousy, your learning abilities. Even the idea that you tend to have a lot of “bad luck” or “good fortune”.
Whenever you make your beliefs about these part of your identity, you ruin your chances at making a change in that area. And you might even get mad at everyone who tries to help, free or empower you.
Your real true "self" is ever-changing and has much more freedom than you think.
So whatever you believe right now, realize that it is only what you consider to be true based on the limited understanding of reality you possess in this moment.
I know those continuous Windows updates can be a little annoying sometimes.
But when it comes to debugging the Os that runs your own mind, you might wanna think twice before you say no to something that could actually improve the system 😉
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