Core belief systems

Politics has people on edge. Some on the right say Hillary Clinton was not to be trusted and is a danger to national security. People on the left say Donald Trump is a misogynist and a danger to national security. Most people are not interested in seeing the other side or even ratcheting down the rhetoric so a common viewpoint can be found. I wondered why people were so willing to give into hysteria instead attempting to see the other persons' point of view. It has literally become my way or the highway on social media. Turns out there is a physical reason for our stubbornness.

Core beliefs and the brain

Core beliefs are the things you believe true about yourself regardless of what others think. You may believe you are tolerant but the fact is most of us are not. We are only tolerant when we are with people who share our belief system.

Our subconscious may know we are not 100% tolerant but we will continue to believe we are tolerant because we self-identify with that belief. We may feel tolerant toward the refugees coming into our society but be intolerant of our daughter-in-law because she has a different outlook on how to raise the grandchildren. You believe you are tolerant so refugees are proof of your tolerance. However when your core belief system is challenged on a personal level by your daughter-in-law you lash out and shut down because the thought of you being intolerant is simply unacceptable.

A core belief can be negative or positive but often the belief is deeply ingrained so to challenge the belief can be more than a bit unsettling to the mind and body. In fact, challenging a belief might start you on a path that would ultimately change your entire world view and when that happens the mind and body fight back with tools like anger and anxiety.

Core beliefs and science

Recently, a University of Southern California study on which brain networks respond when someone sticks to a belief found something surprising. When someone's belief system was challenged, the parts of the brain associated with personal identity and emotion lit up. This turned on the amygdala which is responsible for the fight or flight response.

The challenged belief was perceived as a threat. In addition, once the challenge activated the amygdala the person shut down and refused to see any rational evidence supporting a differing belief system. In fact, political beliefs were found to be one of the most stubborn beliefs we have.

Core beliefs and changing the American discourse

In order to change the national discourse we have to meet the other person's belief system in the middle. Remember that the person to whom you are talking/texting/posting has as deeply held beliefs as you do. To cross the divide, one of you has to challenge your belief system and if you are reading this article it might as well be you.

Forming a belief takes years and it is no more than a thought/experience you once had that you made real and tied your identity to.

When my husband was stabbed my safe world became an unsafe world. However the world hadn't changed, I had. This was not a workable belief system for me and so I challenged it. Now I see the world as somewhat safe and somewhat unsafe which is a true statement not a belief. I take precautions when I need to and feel safe and happy when I do not need them.

My neighbor believes the world is completely safe. Her kids play outside, they walk to school and walk back from school. If I were to challenge her belief with my original belief that the entire world is unsafe my neighbor would feel threatened by me because I am upsetting her world view. However, we can come to an agreement that sometimes bad things happen but most of the time they do not.

This belief supports her belief and mine creating a common belief system that contains no threats.

We can do the same with politics. It takes effort and courage and is worth far more than creating more conflict in this conflicted world. To be open to people is to evolve.