To know who you really are and what you truly believe, you must have the courage to think deeply and question everything. Most of us were brought up in a certain belief system, whether religious or not. Usually we inherit the beliefs of our parents and culture.
Some people will defend the belief system they inherited until the day they die. This is fine, of course. You are the only one who can choose your path in life, and sometimes you will choose to walk in the footsteps of those who went before.
Some of you, however, are searching for truth. Your truth. Not anyone else’s. And this is a lonely journey. In the process of searching, you will reject almost everything that you were taught to believe. You may incur your parents’ anger, you may lose friends, and you may experience a severe identity crisis.
Think deeply, step by step
1. Know where you started
I was a cradle Catholic, and went through the same religious phases that many young Catholics go through. I wanted to be a nun, felt guilty for everything, and almost left the Church. In the end I stayed. But now I know better why I believe what I do.
You may not be a Catholic, but you may be equally sceptical of your childhood faith. And perhaps you’re on the verge of walking away from everything that used to define you. I want to tell you that this is okay. There are two possible outcomes when you start to wander away from your spiritual or philosophical roots.
The first possibility is that you end up abandoning your faith altogether. You may find a more original faith. This is a good thing, as long as you have something to believe in.
The second outcome is that you will come back to your original root, but this time you will know why you are there. This is also good. It is better to believe with understanding than without.
2. Think deeply about everything
All breakthroughs in history were made by those who challenged existing theories, and paid dearly for daring to think deeply for themselves. Galileo was branded a heretic for claiming the earth orbited round the sun. Marconi was almost thrown into a mental asylum for suggesting that radio signals could be sent through air. Oh, and of course, Jesus was crucified.
Exercising your freedom to think for yourself will usually come with censure from others. I’m not saying that if others disapprove, it means you are right. Sometimes it just means you’re being stupid. I’m merely suggesting that you cannot have freedom of thought unless you are willing to put up with criticism from well-meaning people.
Learning to ask “What if…” questions is a good place to start. For example, “What if the Church is wrong and Jesus would approve of abortion after all if he was alive today?” Test the limit. See if the new position makes sense. The sign of a great mind is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time without the need to immediately discard one of them. Consider the alternatives.
3. Decide what your truth is
There is no such thing as an Absolute Truth. And by the way, that’s merely my truth. Your truth may be different. For me, truth does not exist out there in the universe, but in the mind. And because all our minds are individual, your truth will be different from my truth. Even all those who believe in ‘God’ have something different in mind when they use that word.
Does this mean that anything goes? That if you decide murder is right, then it is? Of course not. Yet even governments sometimes decide that it’s right for them, and that’s how political assassinations happen. I’m not about to judge here, but I accept that you can only act on what you believe truest and best at any point in time.
I cannot prove this, but I think that our myriad individual truths will eventually lead us all to the same place. I believe there is an underlying force that is more powerful than any single person, that at some level we are all one. We like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each with a unique and necessary part of the whole picture.
4. Live by your truth
Knowing and believing your truth with conviction is the only way to live with integrity. I started to own my life when I owned my thoughts. Prior to that, I only dared to do what the rules said I could. Since I started thinking for myself, life has been a wonderful adventure.
Part of that adventure is that I am often wrong. This entire article could be wrong. And if you choose to believe all this, well that’s part of YOUR life adventure. But I’d rather be wrong with conviction than right without knowing it. What makes us human is the ability to think and rationalise. You are more human when you are consciously pursuing truth, detours and wrong turns included.
As you become more and more sure of what you believe, you will experience a greater freedom in your life. Freedom to dare, to try, to be different, to be wrong. Freedom to be who you really are.