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The Suffering of Belief


I know personally only an extremely small fraction of the world's human population. I'm definitely attracted to certain types of people, so my sample is extremely biased.

However, of the people I've known (including myself), many of them hold strong beliefs about how people should behave, how the government ought to be administered, and which religious beliefs are the correct ones to hold.

Some of them hold strong beliefs about how I should behave! I usually try to avoid debates over how I should behave ... trying my best to do so without lying about my intentions ... though sometimes my intentions change shortly afterward ...

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It has been my observation that these beliefs about "how people should behave" cause the believers to suffer. The believers spend a lot of time disciplining themselves and griping about others. When the believer's own behavior doesn't match his beliefs, then he gripes about himself. The beliefs themselves create unhappiness and low self-esteem.

Why are certain beliefs more important than our happiness?

Or, did the beliefs occur because of past unhappiness?

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Maybe many beliefs about "how people should behave" originate when we feel unhappy about how a particular behavior has affected us personally. Maybe we felt extreme jealousy when a lover flirted with another, so we started to believe that such flirtation is wrong. Maybe we felt scared and angry when a stranger mugged us and stole our wallet, so we started to believe that such theft is wrong.

When we create a "should" from personal experience, we are trying to avoid future unhappiness by telling ourselves and the rest of the human race how to behave in the future. At some point, though, we internalize these rules and we become upset, not because the rulebreaking harms us personally, but because the rule itself is broken.

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Maybe other beliefs about "how people should behave" are accepted because we were brought up to believe them. And other beliefs might result from empathy for those affected.

However the beliefs originate, they have the same effect on the believer. The more strongly held the belief, the more suffering it causes when people don't behave.

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Paradoxically, some beliefs reduce suffering, because they are permissive and accepting rather than "shoulds". A belief that "boys will be boys" reduces the suffering of the observer, though the victim of the boys might disagree.


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