The Power of Disbelief

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So often, I am told to believe in something, whether it is the power of a certain brand or the image of reality portrayed by my favourite movie, politician, religious leader or news station.  Life seems to become a struggle of belief, of trying to force myself to have faith in something, and feeling guilty when I lack faith in these systems or ways of being that I am told it is only natural to believe in. Yet so often, these ways of imagining reality that we try so hard to believe are harmful to us, those around us, and the world as a whole. These are messages that diminish our humanity and help us become complicit in the dehumanization of others.  I think of the time that I spent in Israel and Palestine last summer, witnessing firsthand how the so-called realities of terror and the need for security have fostered the flourishing of dehumanization.  I think of our own society, where the so-called realities of corruption and laziness have caused Aboriginal people to be dehumanized, suffering discrimination and a lack of the basic services the rest of us take for granted.

From the other side of the Wall, reality becomes fractured and it seems unbelievable, ludicrous even, that anyone believes in the political certainty preached on the other side. Yet somehow, we struggle on, firm in our belief that might makes right and that walls are really the best way of being a good neighbour. After attending a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or spending time in an Aboriginal community, reality begins to dissolve and it becomes unbelievable that we have allowed colonialism to define the way we think about others. Yet, we continue to believe the subtle (and not so subtle) messages that one race, my race, is a little more human and a little more worthy than another race, your race.  So, we march on, denying services and ignoring people, convinced that with a little more faith in the messages that we hear all around us, everything will make sense.

How can we create space to disbelieve some of the messages that we hear?  How can we allow ourselves to question the images of reality we are presented with? As Ted Grimsrud states, this involves “finding ways to disbelieve in the state’s portrayal of reality and to find other people to be human and humane with.” He writes about popular leaders and activists during Eastern Europe’s Velvet Revolution who refused to seek state power but rather showed the non-reality of state power, and by presenting it as it was, ended it.

How do we cultivate solidarity, grace, compassion, and humanity with each other? These are all characteristics that we are often lacking in our present belief systems.  I still have a lot to learn, but I think part of this might be allowing ourselves the power of disbelief. We don’t have to have faith in everything that we are told. We can ask for definitions of words like terrorism and question why they are applied to some groups and not to others.  We can question why the assumptions that accompany privilege are so pervasive. Of course, this doesn’t mean blind disbelief, just as belief shouldn’t be bind. Rather, this is an opening up of narrow boundaries and ways of seeing the world, allowing for nuance, layers and other voices and perspectives. We don’t have to believe that unless we have political power or wealth or the right clothes or friends, we are nothing.  We are allowed to question and to challenge authority. After all, it is only our belief in a certain reality that allows that reality to continue.  If we all stop believing in realities that dehumanize, imagine what we could do.  Just maybe, if we stop believing, we can start hoping again…

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