It’s normal to have moments in life when we question what we believe. As we grow older we can realize that our worldviews no longer mesh with our maturing understanding of ourselves and the world around us. This can be challenging, yet wonderful. It’s happened to me. Understanding where our worldviews come from can help us evaluate and change them to better reflect reality and live a more meaningful and enjoyable life.
What Determines Our Worldview?
As I wrote in the article What is a Worldview, the heart of our worldview is made of four core beliefs which answer the questions of what is real and what is important. In order to understand why we believe what we believe we need to discover our foundational beliefs. These beliefs lie beneath the ground, out of sight. They often go unquestioned and forgotten, yet they determine our core beliefs and thus influence how we make sense of our lives and live our lives.
A foundational belief is what we use to decide what is true and what is false in regards to our core beliefs. As a deist, my foundational belief was, “I determine what is true or false based on what feels true and makes sense to me in my experience.” I refer to this belief as self-discovery.
The Power of Foundational Beliefs
Changing a foundational belief can completely change one’s worldview. While in college, I realized my worldview was formed only out of what I chose to believe. I had made myself the ultimate authority, the source of truth, and what were the odds I would guess right on the biggest mysteries of life? Probably not so good. I came to the realization that how I determined truth had to change. So I then decided to only believe what I could see or experience with my senses. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I became an atheist two weeks later.
How Do We Evaluate What’s True?
In order to identify your foundational belief, pick a belief and ask yourself, “Where did I get this belief from?” or “What needs to be true in order for me to believe this?” Ask yourself, or have a friend ask you, those types of questions until you can’t give an answer, you begin to use the same answer over and over again, or you say “just because.”
Examples of common foundational beliefs are:
- What is true is what makes me happy and feel good.
- Only what can be verified by my senses or measured scientifically is true.
- Spiritual or subjective experiences reveal truth.
- What is understood to be most reasonable is true.
- Truth comes from the popular beliefs of my tradition, culture, or community.
- I believe in what will give me what I most desire – comfort, protection, freedom, power, acceptance, pleasure, security, or something else.
Identifying Our Foundational Beliefs Can Be Hard
When we have a difficult time uncovering our foundational beliefs, it may be because we’ve accepted family traditions or the popular beliefs of our community. We might give an answer like, “Because that’s what I’ve always believed.” As long as we feel we belong, or fit in, there may be no motivation to question the popular beliefs around us. Even the formation of our foundational belief is likely influenced by the culture around us.
The desire to belong and not make waves is a powerful influence, even if our community is only a few people. That’s what allows cultures and subcultures to exist. It’s very difficult to evaluate what (and why) we really believe from within a cultural bubble. We need outside perspectives to challenge our assumptions.
Where Do Foundational Beliefs Come From?
Foundational beliefs are unconsciously believed as children and consciously chosen as we mature. As children we adopt the beliefs of those around us just as we learn the language of those around us. As we grow older and encounter other worldviews we grow in the ability to consider others’ beliefs and values and question those we knew as children.
As we mature we are able to make conscious commitments to both foundational beliefs and core beliefs. Those beliefs and values may be those of the family or culture we grew up in, a recommitment to the worldview of our youth. They may also be new beliefs and values we encounter throughout life, a slow or sudden conversion to a new worldview.
A foundational belief – though it is a means of knowing – is a belief. We can’t see it, but we choose to trust it to lead us to truth, or at least to what we want to be true.
Explore Your Perspective:
- What is your foundational belief?
- How much does the culture and community around you influence what you believe?
- Is your life, right now, truly enjoyable and meaningful? What do you think is helping or hindering you from experiencing joy and a sense of purpose?
To explore more thoughts about truth, read What Zen Taught Me about Truth.