These are some examples of beliefs that are commonly-held held by many people. When a belief is held by a sizable portion of the population, it may be said to be a myth. Webster defines “myth” as “an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution or worldview.”
When a belief reaches the scale of myth, it is no longer merely personal. At that point it possesses the power to influence the perceptions and views of a significant portion of the population. Myths may or may not contain some truth, but whether or not they do, when they are held as true, there is no longer any motivation to question them and they become accepted as “reality”.
Myths share the common characteristic of “feeling” like they are true and consequently are easy to believe and live in accordance with. Conversely, something that doesn’t feel true, isn’t necessarily false. Believing something to be true when it may not be can be dangerous business indeed. By acting in ways that affirm these beliefs, we are likely to be inclined to create self-fulfilling prophecies that reinforce and provide “evidence” that validates our views. In this process, myths become the water that we the fish are swimming in. We’re incapable of seeing them for what they are and can only collect more social agreement that holds them as “true”.
This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the domain of relationships, in which the distinguishing of truth from fiction can be a task that requires exceptional powers of wisdom and discernment. When we fail to recognize that a particular belief isn’t necessarily THE truth, there’s a fairly high likelihood that we’ll act in accordance with that and because we’re not operating from an accurate compass, end up someplace other than where we had intended to go. Consequently, there’s a good possibility that we’ll end up feeling disappointed, angry, helpless, guilty, resentful, or some combination of the above. In the realm of relationships, when we experience these feelings, we usually don’t attribute them to ungrounded beliefs, but instead we look for someone to blame for them, most likely our partner or perhaps ourselves. While this tendency to find fault with someone can be painful, the need to change our belief system may seem like a more daunting prospect. After all, we may have a lifetime of conviction invested in it. When asked what he would do if science were to come up with evidence that would disprove tenets of Buddhism, without hesitation, the Dalai Lama replied that he would alter his beliefs. Most of us are quite a bit more attached to our beliefs than that. “Reality” can be very hard to challenge.
Seeing a myth for what it is and questioning it’s validity requires us to accept responsibility for having the power to influence and shape the context of our relationship and to see it not as fixed a fixed entity, but as an evolving process, expressing itself moment to moment in a constantly shifting dance. It requires us to accept the challenge of dropping the models into which we may be trying to coerce our partner and see them as they truly are, rather than through the lenses of what could be distorted beliefs. Given the strength of our inclination (and theirs) to hold onto the world views that we’ve spent a lifetime cultivating and reinforcing, this is, admittedly, no easy task. It requires us to put our efforts into the development of empathic understanding and respect rather than trying to instill these qualities in our partner. It is to be more concerned with listening than with being heard and with giving rather than getting.
Those who are successful in doing this have had to deal with social mythology just as everyone else has had to. The difference is that they have disengaged from their attachment to being right about everything that they have held as “truth” and are more open to identifying and questioning the assumptions that have ruled their lives.
The fact that so many marriages end in disappointment for so many couples is a reflection of how many people continue to opt for the illusion of myths rather than to challenge the assumptions on which they are based.
In subsequent blogs we will identify and confront some of the more prevalent beliefs that pervade American culture. Our intention is prompt you the reader to recognize which of these myths may have taken on and to see for yourself where the truth lies. The process of distinguishing belief from reality is itself a process of liberation that frees us to live in accordance with the truth of what is real. As a wise man (David Edwards) once said, “We have nothing to lose but our illusions”. Some things are worth losing.