As a child, when faced with my parents rules and the natural limits of my age, I developed a belief that when I was “grown up” I would be free to do as I wished. As an adolescent and teenager, the belief grew stronger and was fueled by a rebellious streak. My mantra in those years became “When I get older, I'll ….”
Without consciously realizing it, that mantra took on a life of its own. It developed into other beliefs that shaped my outlook and my decisions, such as:
“When I get a job, I can have anything I want.”
“When I reach retirement age, life will be easy.”
To my shock and dismay, I am finding that many of these “truths” which I held dear and were my guiding lights are proving to be incorrect.
One of the major problems with one’s sacred beliefs is that they are developed when we are not mature enough to understand what they mean. They become so common to us that we no longer hear what we are thinking, yet what we are thinking is simply untrue.
In their book The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt present what they believe to be the “Three Great Untruths,” of our age. I agree with those three, and would like to add a fourth untruth based on my own experience and research.
The Three Great Untruths According to Lukianoff and Haidt Are:
1. Life is a battle between good and evil people:
This is the belief that there are only two kinds of people in the world: good people, who are motivated by truth, justice, fairness and equality; and evil people, who are motivated by falsehoods, injustice, and a desire to oppress and exploit others. This creates the false impression that there are only two types of people: victims
This thought creates a hostile environment where alternative viewpoints are considered a threat and are harshly dismissed. It creates an atmosphere that limits growth and understanding and fosters fear, anxiety and anger.
The idea is an untruth because life is filled with disagreement and opposing views. There are times when these opposing views are true. However, it is possible to have more that one way to see things and contrary beliefs are equal. It is necessary to have an open mind and hear what others have to say about what they believe. It is possible to disagree and still allow the other person’s viewpoint to be right for them. It also leaves out the fact that all humans are capable of good and evil. Humans are multi-dimensional, complex and unpredictable.
2. Always trust your feelings:
This is a tricky untruth to understand. We live in an era where intellect rules supreme. Intellect alone is not enough just as it is true that feelings are not enough.
Feelings do not lie but many times we do not understand what our feelings mean.
For example, in the text Lukianoff states, “I learned the hard way through really terrible bouts of depression that sometimes your mind is telling you things that aren't so nice and that you shouldn't be listening to.”
If we make decisions solely on unprocessed feelings, we misinterpret the actions and intentions of others. We need to bring intellect and experience to the table as well. When we learn to have an open, nonjudgmental mind, listen to the ideas and beliefs of others and combine our feelings with our thoughts, it will lead us to the ability to find the truth.
3. The Untruth of Fragility:
Many times children experience unpleasant and painful emotions, and from these experiences develop the belief that feelings themselves are dangerous and harmful. Controversy, disagreement and engagement with challenging issues, are viewed as threatening. This idea leads individuals to avoid differing viewpoints, at the cost of not developing resiliency.
To develop coping skills and analytical thinking, the human mind requires social, emotional and intellectual challenges. It is important that these challenges are age-appropriate, and in the case of children, are accompanied by the help and guidance of trustworthy adults.
This is where I would add to the work of Lukianoff and Haidt. Through my personal experience, I would add a fourth untruth to the list:
The Untruth of Power and Work:
We live in an age where we believe that anything is possible as long as we work hard enough and have personal power. We live by the mantra, “I can obtain anything and have everything I want, if I have enough power.” It seems we are taught to have more, do more and be more. We are taught that we are limitless and if we cannot accomplish anything we want, we feel like a failure and are filled with shame.
Therein lies the problem. To be human is to be limited. There is a balance between developing our potential and believing we are omnipotent. What is true in life, is that some things are out of our hands. No matter how hard we work, there are situations we can't control, and others that we can’t always handle alone.
Take the time to listen to your internal dialogue and hear which of these beliefs you live by without knowing it. You may discover the cause of dissatisfaction and struggle within yourself.