By Chris Wilson
I BELIEVE. We all say it, think it, and run our daily lives by this simple concept, and by such actions it has a power beyond our dreams, no matter how intelligent, educated, or enlightened we may be. Such power, yet once more it has no form, no substance, and no real credence by which it can claim validity and, unlike the mind, it has no perceived location within our human frame. Logically such nebulous and intangible qualities should shackle and crush such an odd concept, but belief is so strong that since the dawn of our conceptual mind, and up until the very end of time, it is likely that its power and influence will remain. So what is thing we all adhere to, surely it must have some form of definition?
Well we all like to parcel up ideas as much as we like to wrap and unwrap Christmas presents, but if we were to unwrap this present, might we be no better off than if we had never tried to do so at all? Might the nature of this concept be so perverse that a concrete definition be hard to find? The dictionary will tell you that, in summary, it is the mental act, condition, or habit, of placing trust in a person or a thing . Does such a definition really help though, as surely it fails to present such concepts in a way we can understand? Maybe, just maybe, it is better that we do not understand, but what might help is to go back in time to when we first recognised our cognitive ability. To go back to a time when we first recognised some kind of more powerful force within.
At some point, very early in our development, we stopped operating on automatic pilot, and consciously began to take control. We probably weren’t very good at first, but by trial and error we got there in the end, and as our success rate improved, so did our confidence. Basically we began to believe that what we were doing was good, and though others may have suffered as a result of our actions, our lives mattered more than theirs so, we might as well carry on. Thus self-belief was born, and a few million years down the line, nothing much has changed. Of course our lives are more complex, and the depth of our self-belief systems has dramatically increased. Undeniably the root causes of such levels are as complex as any puzzle in nature, but whatever we may believe externally, this surely is the basic system that governs our day-to-day lives. If we were to try and record and regulate the degree of self-belief across the human spectrum, and to do so by reference to a scale or a measurable system, I very much doubt if we would ever succeed. The central ground might be measurable for some individuals, but for others the extremes values within their belief systems are probably beyond even their ability to perceive. The outer limits of self-belief will be discussed a little later, but for most us, we really are quite lucky. Most of us are in the central range, and within this band we merrily chug along with a variable, but not excessive range, of self-belief and awareness, and overall the system serves us well. We all have our ups and downs, and at times our perception of both internal and external power can be as sharp as a new pin, or as cloudy as pea soup. We muddle through however, and we hold a reasonably steady course, generally, in time, finding safe harbour. Does this give us all we want, maybe yes and maybe not, for even in the most balanced of individuals a degree of confusion and doubt can arise, and even those with supreme self confidence and belief must sometimes step with care.
Why so, why because of self-doubt which, deny as we might, we carry deep inside us all. Call it a companion piece to self belief if you will, call it whatever you will, but whatever it may or may not be, it is perhaps not quite such a bad force as you might imagine. Is it not our greatest enemy, and thereby our finest friend? Who else, or what else, will really keep us on our toes? Think of a watering hole on the African plains, and think of how other animals behave when they come to drink. When approaching the hole no animal, except if driven by desperation, would blindly walk towards the water without being wary of what predators may be around. Would not natural caution hinder such a move? Despite our assertion that we are different from other animals around us, do we not share the same caution, and is it not often that same care which keeps us from harm? We may eat, drink, and be merry, and feel so superior alongside our mammalian neighbours, but strip away the veneer of civilised behaviour, and our behavioural traits will seem very much the same.
For some though life presents a more variable challenge, and for them self-belief, and sometimes reality, has a very different character. For the purposes of investigation I will put aside the problems faced by individuals in third world countries, as they their lives and problems deserve a book entirely of their own. Three other areas do need addressing though, and they are the areas of perceived physical, sensory, and mental “disability”. How such individuals may be integrated and assisted within society will be dealt with in a later chapter, but for now I suggest we look at how the world looks through their eyes, and assess how they may feel within. One thing to deal with immediately is the term “perceived disability”, as it does not always have such an obvious meaning as we might imagine. For some the negative aspects of disability are all too real, but we should use the word with care, for we shall see, over the following paragraphs, that many positive values soon emerge. However, as a point of reference let us refer to both areas as areas of disability, but still acknowledge that such a term might be misleading.
The first two areas to look at are the worlds of physical and sensory disability. Most us of live our lives totally unaware of how dependent we are on our locomotive and sensory abilities that nature has so generously blessed us with, but if we think for a moment how life might be without such assets, a very different picture emerges. If we find this hard to do we might try to do up our shoelaces without bending our knee, or try to pick up a pencil without using our hands? What if we lose our sight, or our hearing, how might that feel? What if we tried to walk along a landing blindfold, or even worse tried to walk down stairs? How would it feel if we tried to hold a conversation, or tied to respond to a fire alarm if we couldn’t hear a thing? As part of a management-training package I have tried all these things, and I can categorically state that in doing so my self-belief temporarily flew out of the window. For me loss of my lifetime assets was very brief, so my body had no real time to adapt, but if such factors have been absent over a longer period of time, surprising benefits can emerge. A loss of one sense may result in higher levels of the senses that remain, and as regards physical disability, are we not all constantly amaze at how such individuals cope with their apparent disadvantages? Do we not see cheerful endurance, hope, and optimism where we might expect there to be none, and if so, do we not wonder as to the root or origin of such emotions? There are as many reasons for such optimism as there are specific disabilities, some physical some more intangible, but one factor often seems to be the heightened knowledge some individuals have of the power and depth of their inner mind. We all know that gaining something after a hard fight is infinitely more rewarding than having such a reward for free, so, under such conditions, might such apparent disability become an unexpected extra ability after all, and one that all of us can enjoy and learn from?
A much harder disability to comprehend is that of mental illness or disability. Why so, well, because it often seems that nothing is there, yet ask any sufferer, and he or she will tell that you that there is something inside them, or around them, which has power beyond their control or even their comprehension. Mercifully times have changed, and terms such as madmen, village idiots, possessed, lunatics, have been condemned to the dustbin of history. Also consigned have been some of the more ignorant and cruelly pointless forms of “remedial” treatments that many in the past have endured, but even now many problems remain. Now a more humane approach has now been adopted, and though the true understanding of “mental illness” is still debatable, more client friendly treatment, or longer-term relief is coming on line. It may seem strange to put the term mental illness in inverted commas, but there is a good reason for doing so. Are all our actions, thoughts, words, and deeds compliant with true sanity, might it not be that we are the ones who are, at times, insane? Whatever the answer is to that particular question is very much open to individual interpretation, but think for a moment of the world such individuals inhabit, and reflect upon what you see?
It is true that they can sink into depths of despair that most of us have never had to countenance, and it is true that once there they might lose all sense of hope, direction, and power; and it is true they might also develop multiple personalities to deal with such pain. But it is also true that they can scale heights that we in the central band might never see, and that at such heights the attainment of insight or power might be beyond our power to comprehend. Who is to tell you what is there, in reality nobody, for such can be the difference in perceived states that the occupants do not have the words to describe what is there. Tragically those in the central band, including the professionals, may not have the power to perceive, and all their good intent and skill may count as nothing. This may seem a very bleak picture, but though such areas can be painful they can also produce great wonders. Think of the great minds throughout the ages, and think of how many of those minds, though unbalanced, have given us joy or insights into worlds we cannot comprehend. Think of what they have left us, and think of what they are developing now, and who knows where they might lead us over the years to come?
Whatever band or bands an individual exists in there is almost one complicating factor; outside of your own individual fears or phobias, and unless we keep our selves in total isolation it is the one common factor which both enchants and plagues us all, often both at the same time. I refer of course to our fellow man, a curious animal, which most obdurately clings to his own set of self-beliefs that perversely may be identical or totally different to our own. This is where life gets just a little complicated, for we suddenly realise that all the values we have built up over the years could be wrong, and that now we are part of an integrated community everything we believe in might have to change. Nature has been kind to us though, and above all we still have our brain and our mind, and the two combine to see us through situations that logically would seem insane. The way we deal with this new situation and the contradictory behavioural patterns which develop will be explored in the chapters to come, but very often the first thing we do is to extend our self belief to what lies outside of this world, and thus it is we turn to faith. In what, well take your pick really. There is an old maxim that you pays your money and you takes your choice, but don’t worry, we have plenty of varieties to chose from!