Have you heard of this idea called, “You don’t think the way I think therefore you must die”?
It’s called a reverse Rene. The idea is catching up fast; it’s the new cult. What’s ominous about the cult though is how much intolerance it has spawned in a short time. The followers worship themselves.
We all believe in something. There’re many factors that go on to determine what we believe. Over time, the beliefs ossify and we end up with some form of a decision-making toolkit. Think of it as a tree. This tree is basically the rest of the essay.
The beliefs that make up this tree are not restricted to an individual alone. From obscure organizations to big corporations to major political parties, beliefs are the gateway drug that inform our choices on what each of these entities stands for and whether we must associate with them.
Of course, it’s impossible to determine if any of the abstract entities actually live up to what they believe. Who are we kidding — they don’t. So, let’s restrict this argument to the individual. By which I mean: You.
For the most part, belief was synonymous with religion.
Your beliefs were largely determined by your environment. They weren’t beliefs that you worked hard to develop. You believed because that was just the right/safe/easy thing to do.
Over the last few decades, this changed: people had to work hard to cultivate beliefs. Because instead of smacking them on the head for questioning the beliefs, they were given a choice from very early on (which is good). Things changed: kids now get to order a new toy each time they get smacked.
As we start making choices early on, we plant an invisible seed that grows into this gnarled tree — branches and all. That’s the belief tree. Religion eventually became just one part of the tree.
At first, we let people water the tree with their thoughts. Teachers, peers and parents, any sucker that’s remotely older than you are always trying to shape your belief tree.
At some point, we notice a few people have these incredible trees filled with the most beautiful flowers, leaves, and unique snowflakes. We want the same for our tree. So we start to make our own choices.
Over time, when flowers and green shows up on our tree, people stand around and clap. Some say their tree is a darker shade of brown than yours, but you are too happy to punch them in the face.
Behind this rather crumby tree metaphor is an important invisible idea about how our beliefs shape us.
With choices, religion went from being the entire tree to becoming only a part of the tree. In fact, we even have a choice to not have religion as a part of the tree at all.
Now, the tree represents all of our life largely formed by the decisions we made. The belief tree became our identity, governing every major decision we made, make, and will make.
In science, the tree is what is called the neural network of the brain developed through a structure of oft-repeated thought patterns. These patterns are informed by connecting what you learned to things happening around you. What you have in the end is a pathway or in this case – a set of branches that help you make life choices; sprout new flowers and leaves.
So, where are we now?
You’ve got this tree that you have loved and cared for. It’s reciprocated with flowers and fruits. Not as many as you’d like, but enough to make believe that there’s more to come.
As you are sitting on your hammock, admiring your tree, someone comes by with an axe and says your tree is ugly and stupid. They offer to chop it down for you and give you a new seed that will create the most beautiful tree in under a year. You know, just like the one so many others have.
Here’s where it gets dramatic alright. Sit back and enjoy the graphics.
As this axe-wielding human stands there about to take a swing at your tree, an axe magically appears in your hands. As you try to comprehend what’s happening, you do some mental math and calculate the projectile angle at which an axe must travel to its target. Thanks to your accurate calculations, your axe cuts the guy’s axe in half.
Well done. You go stand in front of him and smile. He looks shaken. And then he laughs. You ask him why. He shakes his head and continues laughing. You ask him why again, this time louder. He points to your tree and shows you how the axe you threw has gone on to damage your tree anyway.
Welcome to the cult. Welcome also to the inside of my neural network that’s a result of way too many shitty movies.
A long time ago, back when your belief tree was shaping up, you noticed it had a number of problems: Leaves turning brown, roots becoming weak, soil cracking away. You worked hard and yet nothing seemed to happen. You managed to pull off something, engineer you way through, and got a good-looking tree in front of you. That’s the tree you were admiring sitting on the hammock.
So, when this guy shows up saying you got it all wrong, you are obviously annoyed. So you defend with your axe.
Slowly, you begin to notice some people are growing their trees all wrong. You notice these people convincing more people that their way is actually the right way. Worse, they tell them that this is the only way to grow a tree. The problem is you know some of these people.
And here’s where things begin to fall apart.
When people figured there’s more to beliefs than religion, there was chaos. Suddenly, there were different trees and they represented freewill and choice. In the beginning, this led to both creation and destruction. Since the creation outnumbered the destruction and the trees got new beliefs, albeit still rooted in religion.
People went around wielding axes, but there was no way to uproot all the trees that had sprung up in short time all around the world. A thousand years and a million religions later, there’s you. Here. Now. Wielding an axe of your own. Not just to fend off predators getting near your tree, but also to chop down trees you feel are ugly, stupid and plain wrong. Not to mention, the trees that don’t quite resemble your own.
The greatest predicament is how the trees that have been grown all wrong still bear fruits and flowers. Some even seem to be thriving. This has to stop. People shouldn’t be looking at these trees and be inspired, right?
So for a while, I went around brandishing my axe trying to stop this sort of fossilized inspiration. Obviously, nothing happened. Somehow, each time, I was damaging my own tree.
So, I buried the axe.
Because people were constantly telling me three things: 1. Every tree is different. 2. I need to be accepting and shit. 3. Who the heck do I think I am?
And then they would go on to enumerate everything wrong with my belief tree.
So now, I smile and nod and control the urge to piss on their belief trees and set it on fire.
Does that mean I don’t wield the axe at all? Nah, princess. I still use the axe to impress people you because. Sometimes it is helpful to fend off a certain group of ass-clowns.
Most other times, the axe only left scars on my tree. So, each time I bury it deeper than the last. Because I, like you, started to use it with a certain group of people that genuinely cared about me. And that’s where this cult leads to toxic soil.
The reason we tend to use the axe with people that are closest to us is that we want the best for them. We can’t watch them self-destruct under their tree. So, we think killing-off a few branches will solve the problem. When we see it doesn’t, we make a last-ditch effort and take one hard swing at the tree. The tree stands, now with a permanent scar.
What we now have is a bunch of scarred trees. What we now have is people walking the face of the earth with axe in hand. We even have axe-sharpeners everywhere (See: the Internet). What we now have is a pretense of progress.
I don’t want to paint a bleak picture of the world. Because I think the world’s a freaking incredible place in spite of the existence of some very poisonous trees. That’s never going to change.
What can change however is how you deal with the cracked trees that you see every day. The trees that you sat under because they offered you the shade of love, care, and concern. The trees that resisted the worst conditions much before you planted your own seed.
We all reach a point in life when we begin to see all the imperfections of people closest to us. We reach that point when we read some Kant and Jung and Buzzfeed and that makes us believe we can psychoanalyze our parents and spout pithy dictum and tell them of the 11 ways they can change their life.
So, we reach for our axe. After all, who if not you to chop off these imperfections? The great savior. But, you couldn’t have chosen a more beastly way to go about it.
Even if you don’t leave scars, you will cause permanent nagging pain. One they’ll never be able to explain to you. One you will feel in yourself at a different point.
So yeah, that axe must go. Buried into oblivion.
It will still tear at you from the inside when you watch the people that love you handle the tree all wrong. I am not saying love and kindness are what you should use instead of the axe. Because I am still grappling with what those two ideas mean.
Let’s just assume they don’t work. What then? Well, sit under the shade get some laughter together. Sounds like the plot-line of another shitty movie? Sure. But this one is the arc of every good story too.
Be there for them with all your attention. Overlook the imperfections for a while. That’s when you create space for love, understanding, and communication. Most importantly, that’s when you create space for memories to look back. Sorry to get all emo on this, but if anything starts at home, make it this.
As far as the rest of the world goes, I sure hope the axe can stay buried. I know it looks like the world is a burning pile of garbage sometimes; a forest fire.
Make sure you don’t start one yourself. I hate to get Godfather-like with you on this, but only if you empty hatred, differences and useless squabbles can you create space for respect, appreciation, and trust. It’s hard. It may fail. But, there’s lesser pain. There are lesser scars. There’s lesser toxic smoke.
Finally, most importantly, ironically, at some point you may want to use the axe against someone you quite didn’t expect: You. Yeah, someday you beliefs will crash. Your tree will stand naked and barren. Looking ugly, stupid and wrong.
Everything you cared for and believed will come to naught. You may want to dig out the axe and slash the roots. You may want to leave scars deep enough to fell the tree.
But, if you don’t give your tree a fresh start, a new beginning — the all-important fertilizer of forgiveness, you will want to go out there chopping every tree that’s barren and empty. Worse, you will even see beautiful trees as barren and empty.
Water of compassion. Sunlight of hope. Spring is coming. It always does.