Sunday, March 12, 2006

Believing the Impossible

Sometimes I wonder whether we restrict ourselves unnecessarily by curtailing our imagination and beliefs. We might believe that humans are innately selfish, that synchronicity is impossible, or that we can't lose weight. Looking at the world as it seems right now, those beliefs could appear completely reasonable. But does this mean they are true? If you believe that you can't draw because you had a bad experience back in primary school, is this a true belief? I believed for a long time that I couldn't improvise, but this year I began taking improvisation lessons, and when I suspend my skepticism I find that it's really not as impossible as I had previously thought.

There are plenty of examples of individuals who have achieved things others had thought impossible - because they 'believed in themselves'. We don't even need to search very far to find people who have achieved goals they previously thought were impossible - because they changed their beliefs about themselves. But what if we could achieve things as a society that we never thought possible, like not killing each other in wars, for example? Would we ever be able to change our ideas about human nature to such an extent that we could achieve world peace?

"Don't be ridiculous!" "Humans have been fighting with each other since the dawn of time, why would we stop now?" I can already hear the incredulity in the air. OK, so humans have been killing each other for millennia - is that a good reason to assume that we cannot overcome that as a society? Just because something "has always been that way" is not a good reason to believe that it must be that way. What if we let ourselves believe, just for a second, that the world could be different? What if we opened the door to that possibility, just a little? What if a lot of people in the world did that? I'm not saying that we would have armies laying down their guns, but I think it is worth thinking about the possibility that things could be very different.

Brenda Coulter has written about suspending disbelief when reading fiction, and included a wonderful quote from Alice in Wonderland:
"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

--Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll.

What if we too practiced believing impossible things?


JV said...

Someone (and I wish I could remember who) once said, "Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can't -- you're right."

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