Faith and Belief Puzzle

I received in my email a comment made on another blog, a reply to a post questioning ones belief and religion. While both belief and religion are a personal matter, until recently in most of the world they both were monitored and controlled by people with the power and ability to make ones life most unpleasant up to and including a prolonged and horrifying death if one strayed too far from the center.

In a few areas this has not changed. Even today in some parts of the world people are routinely banished from their villages, relieved of their possessions. Occasionally, body parts are hacked off, and their life taken because their belief system does not align itself with the powers that be. In some cases it is only perception rather than any actual proofs or observations that caused someone to be banished or killed over belief or religion.

Thousands of years ago – to present day in some places in the world, what and how you believe determines whether you will be alive to see the sunrise tomorrow. Possibly your answer may even determine if you will be alive two minutes from now. What luxury we have to ponder our beliefs out loud, and have a hopefully rational exchange of ideas and opinions on them.

We in the Western world, for the most part have it easy. When asked what we believe or profess to believe we have multiple courses of action. We can state our beliefs, we can allude to what we may believe, or we can claim it is personal and applicable only to ourselves, and choose not to share with others. In most situations any of these types of responses are acceptable, and there are no repercussions.

What if there is no wiggle room? What if your beliefs do not agree with the status quo? What if that difference means you may lose your life? What does one do in that situation? Does one publicly profess to whatever those with the power to end your life want to hear, or if one believes differently, do they state their beliefs, and suffer the fate straying from the paved road. What if straying means torture and eventual death?

Brittany’s s blog post , concerns the correctness of her personal belief system; questioning which parts of her belief are correct, and which areas may not be correct. This has been a relevant personal question for thousands of years and will continue to be relevant as long as one group has the power and ability to influence another.

Before jumping to conclusions of our own beliefs and bravery contained therein, I would like to mention the Leader of the Catholic Church. The last Pope after being shot, and now apparently all future Popes, have chosen safety over their beliefs. They have chosen the safer path, being transported through crowds in their protected bullet proof vehicle, affectionately named the ‘PopeMobile‘.

If someone that rooted in their belief system and faith such as the Pope(s) chooses the safer route, how many of us are really ready to put our own wishy-washy half baked beliefs on the line, with the knowledge our public pronouncement of our faith could lead to our death?

I for one know that it is easier to sit in the safety of my home, and say I would do this, or I would do that, knowing that the time should never come when I am doing what I think I would do, knowing my life is in jeopardy whatever my answer may be.

I would like to think that each of us, no matter what our belief system and possibly aligned religion have determined without hesitation what we believe is something we are willing to defend to our death. Settling for less is living a lie of convenience. There needs to be a sliding gauge in place however.

Expecting the same of a twelve year old as we would of an eighty year old is neither practical nor balanced. A typical twelve year old is barely aware of themselves as an individual, let alone what their true beliefs are and why they have them. Whereas an eighty year old has had a lifetime to think, test, and determine what is true for them.

Perhaps it is likely that the eighty year old is willing and ready to put their life on the line for their beliefs, but one would hope they have traveled down many paths before setting themselves on their chosen path.

For most people however, questioning your beliefs is natural and common. Everyone has doubts. Everyone wonders if what they believe is what they should believe. Those that ignore these doubts and questions have lead lives of lies because they never challenged what they believe and tested what they were told.

Bravery and Belief are not one word. Nor is Belief and Blind Acceptance one word. We all should strive to challenge our beliefs and not be afraid to modify them if we find them faulty, or untrue. Whether we are willing to perish for our beliefs is another matter completely and can only be answered by each of us individually.

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Promoting Bad Behavior

There is always a lot of information available in Personal Development on how to improve yourself by changing your behaviors. Many sources emphasize changing what are construed as negative social behaviors for what are thought to be more acceptable behavior. I really do not think this behavior modification is possible from a deep level perspective.

Behaviors which some see as negative, anti-social, career limiting, whatever one chooses to call them, are behaviors which work for the individual at some level. These behaviors are tried and true, modified and tuned through the preceding years. When these behaviors are used they achieve the expected outcome. If these behaviors did not work for an individual they would have been modified out of existence.

What does one do if they are seen as, or they feel they have behaviors which hold them back from achieving their goals? Behavior substitution is the most promoted course of action. Substitute a limiting behavior for a behavior that is more accepted and helps achieve the desired result. That is what many experts say.

Take that behavior which is causing problems and replace it with a better behavior. For some people this is a healthy and positive way to fix whatever is wrong. The positive reinforcement of changed behavior should solidify and promote the use of the new behavior.

The only problem is it does not work for many people. People modify or replace one or more behaviors they feel are holding them back in some way. They adopt what they believe are more acceptable behaviors. Often just like the weight loss panacea, they find that after really trying and working on change for weeks or months, nothing changes.

Behavior based rewards are either non-existent, or not present in enough quantity to help the individual want to keep using modified or replaced behaviors. Little by little, just as lost pounds are regained, old behaviors start re-appearing.

Instead of enjoying all the benefits of everything one hoped would happen with behavior modification, the individual finds themselves back in the same rut they thought they were digging themselves out from. A  lot of work and effort and nothing really changed.

Maybe the problem is not in the behaviors themselves? Unless they are criminal or otherwise unlawful, maybe the behaviors are not the problem? After all these behaviors are part of the individuals personality and to some extent make them what they are.

Maybe the problem is using the behaviors at the wrong time, place, or manner? There are hundreds of jobs in multiple career fields where people use behaviors which do not work well in general social settings, and they use them successfully! Instead of trying to become someone else, be creative and look for opportunities, both social and career oriented where bad behaviors are both rewarded and encouraged.

Take those seemingly negative behaviors out, polish them up, and look for opportunities where they can be rewarded and not punished. With some tuning and polish, behaviors that many people want to change can be a fast track to success. It is more pleasant to look in the mirror and think, “This is who I am”, than look in the mirror and think, “This is me acting like someone else.”

The catch in this way of thinking, and there is always a catch, is self acceptance. Accepting who we are what we are, and knowing we are perfect for us is easier said than done. One has to throw away our families implanted ideas of who we are and look for our real self. We are what we are, and accepting ourselves is where our focus should be. We should not be focused on some ideal that we know we will never meet, or become.

Once self acceptance is second nature, it is time to find an outlet where we can be rewarded for how we are. Dismiss limiting beliefs about what we think we should be doing, for finding a lifestyle and career where we are acknowledged and rewarded for who we really are.

This takes effort and searching. The possibilities are real, they exist. Other people just like us are benefiting being themselves, doing work we can only guess at. All we need to do is be willing to break the mold we never fit in to start with, and get out there and find what we were created for and meant to do with our life.

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Make your Mark – 2000s version

When it is time to ‘Make Your Mark’, the first thing to decide is what your Mark is. Marks are highly personal. We generally do not mix our Mark with another persons Mark, except in the short term, when it is a group action such as building a bridge.

People are often sidetracked and disenchanted by the first step of Making their Mark. They pick lofty and important goals, planning to write their name in history books. After a small amount of time they give up in frustration. Making their Mark is relegated to the realm of dreams. Don’t let this happen to you. Make your Mark as lofty as you dream!

Once you pick your Mark, always work towards it. If your Mark in life is to be a company president, or great scientist you can not immediately start working on your resume for the positions. Smaller tasks come first to get you prepared for the big goal, What working towards your Mark means is ensuring that what ever you are doing or are going to do helps you move towards Making your Mark, and not away from it.

Not one person of the literal billions who have lived and died, started out famous. Each of the long time famous people earned their Mark in the world. Rosa Parks , Sitting Bull, Juan Cortina, and others, did not start out with their Mark already made. It took most of their life to Make their Mark. They all started as mere mortals, and over their lifetime they achieved enough successes, to have made individual Marks that will carry on through the ages.

Making your Mark is not easy, it was never meant to be easy. Making your Mark is not a Western movie, spending a few months on a dusty plain fighting a range war over barbed wire, or water rights. Making your Mark is living a lifetime of holding a vision of who you want to be somewhere down the road, and doing your best not to become distracted or give up.

Making your Mark, is a life long endeavor. Making your Mark is filled with challenges, setbacks, and occasional defeats. Making your Mark means reflecting on your character. When it seems that you will never achieve what you have determined to do, you have to look deep down inside of yourself, and find what you are made of and use it.

Making your Mark means identifying strengths you never new you had in the face of adversity. Making your Mark means walking your own path when everyone else is taking a different route. Making your Mark can mean making tough choices.

Making your Mark means not quitting just because you can or you want to. Making your Mark means one day you sit down and realize you made a difference, and though it may have taken you a lifetime, you accomplished a goal that few people in the world will ever reach. Making your Mark means that no matter what happens, you have done what you set out to do, and the world is a better place for it.

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Make Your Mark – 1800s version

Being lucky enough to go to the movies as a kid meant going to see a Western. Westerns always took place sometime in the 1800’s. The 1800s were recent enough to be remembered in stories passed down by family members, and Westerns were filled with action and suspense.

Old Westerns always had characters that were easily defined. Good Guys wore white hats, and the Bad Guys always wore dark hats. It made it easy to know immediately who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.

One unique part in Westerns that stuck with me all these years was a ritual called, “Make your Mark”. The Good Guys whether signing on for a cattle drive, a posse, or taking on some other job, were always asked to Make their Mark on a sheet of paper.

Sometimes, after they made their mark with a simple X, and someone wrote in their name next to their X. Other times, the Good Guy wrote out his name in some flowery script. However they made their mark, it was clear that they were pledging to something, and they would see it through to the end or die in the process.

In a few Westerns a different type of Mark was made. A young Cowboy would be told to go out and Make his Mark. This was confusing to me, because generally cowboys made their Marks on paper. As a kid I did not understand how a Cowboy could Make his Mark if he did not sign anything.

In these odd Westerns where a young Cowboy went out and made his mark without writing his name on anything, there was more to the story line. Generally he would meet some Cowgirl and they would get mushy and then have a falling out. The Cowboy would leave angry, pack up some things, ride into the arid lands, do battle with bad guys, and finally return to fall madly in love with the Gal he left behind. I always missed where or how he Made his Mark though. How or where did he Make his Mark, as he never signed anything?

Later, I started to understand the idea of Cowboy’s Making his Mark was an abstract concept. The Cowboy had to get out there, where ever there was, and do something important. The mark the Cowboy made were his larger than life accomplishments. Bigger than driving cattle to market – which would have been his job. Big accomplishments were saving a Town, protecting Ranchers from rustlers, or rescuing the Cowgirl from bad guys.

I was confused how I was supposed to, ‘Get out there and make my mark’. Though no one ever said anything like it, it seemed to be an expectation as I grew up. There were no rustlers, no one was in distress, or needed saving, and there was a lake or stream every few miles so water was never an issue. I never met a young woman I had a serious argument with. What exactly was I expected to do to, Make My Mark?

Eventually I started to have an inkling of what, ‘Making your Mark’ was all about. For us mere mortals, ‘Making Your Mark’ is a sequence of events happening over a lifetime. Making Your Mark is not completing a single task and riding off into the sunset, or marrying the Cowgirl who suddenly has become so desirable.

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Respect In Proper Proportions

Some of us are born leaders, some are born followers, most of us are in between sharing traits from each end of the spectrum. Knowing when to follow, when to lead, and when to follow your own advice make us the individuals we are. Determining what is our correct choice for each situation is important to our happiness.

Leading is perhaps the diciest undertaking of the three choices. You determine an action, and start going in that direction. You hope that most people around you will follow you. If it is a reasonable thing you are trying to do, it is likely that some of the people around you will follow your lead.

When people go their own way, it is a one person decision. Going your own way may mean you have a bigger priority at the moment that you want to follow to its end. Or it may mean you are making a poor decision.

The easiest and most difficult undertaking is to become a follower. Followers once they decide to follow, follow blindly. It is almost as if one becomes an extension of the leader. What the leader wants and thinks is what followers want and think.

Following can lead to dramatic changes in our behavior,  both positive and negative. A simple example is joining your friends for a soda. That behavior opens the door for other non standard behaviors to be observed by the members of the friends group. Seen often enough even bad behavior can become one of those, everyone is doing it so why not me too excuses we use to justify our actions.

Being too much of a follower is also a self limiting behavior. Self limiting behaviors are behaviors we engage in that over time effect us in a negative way. That effect may be missed opportunity, missed interaction with friends and family, or unknowingly turning away from those people who have your best interest at heart.

How this happens is easily understood through what we think of as typical Teenage behavior. You want to go out and be with your friends on a weekend night. Your parents are resistant to the idea, probably for good reasons which we do not understand being the Teen. What we perceive is our Parents are being too strict, and never want us to have any fun.

Initially we respect our parents wishes and follow their rules. One weekend, for no obvious reason, something happens that makes our Parents desires less important than our own, and those of our friends. We ignore the rules of our Parents and we do exactly what we want, stay out later than we should with our friends.

The next day our Parents are most unhappy, and upon reflection, staying out the night before does not now feel as good as it did last night. From this moment on we either start growing up and take responsibility, or we continue to justify why we were right and our parents are wrong.

What we really did was violate a trust. We have channeled the respect for our Parents over to our Friends. Suddenly, our friends have taken our Parents place at the top of the respect tree. The respect we have for our Parents is below the respect we give our friends.

Of course to us, it feels as if this is exactly as it should be. Our friends are always there for us. They share more of our time than our Parents do, and they are always ready to share the wisdom of their knowledge with us. Our Parents want to stifle us, and keep us from growing up.

Respect is one of our most valuable personal assets, and it needs to be given out carefully. Giving too much respect to people who have little direct interest in our well being is one of the quickest ways to ruin our life and fill the lives of those around us with the problems we cause.

Misdirected respect is wasted respect. Misdirected respect does nothing to improve our life. Misdirected respect only brings eventual conflict and pain. Our poor decision becomes obvious only after it is too late and we have damaged close relationships.

Fortunately most of us grow up and come to understand the tried and true value of giving our respect to those who have or had the most influence in our life. We learn not give respect to people who’s real interest in our life is selfishness in self centered relationship.

Giving more respect to casual people in your life than you do to those who always want the best for you is a major life miss. Respect your Family and close Friends, but give that respect with your eyes open and your brain thinking.

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The Art of Who You Are

When we were young children, we went through our days following someones preplanned agenda. Someone, usually our parents, have decided what we are going to do, when we are going to do it. A few years later and we are absorbed into a school system, on our way to being Borg’d.

Around ten or eleven most of us are becoming aware we have an identity or our own. We have not given more than a fleeting thought or two of who we are, but we know we are our own something.

It all starts falling apart when we reach our teenage years. We were doing fine, being a part of the whole, and having fun. We sit in our class with our friends and a few not so friends, and we start thinking we need to be a little different. We feel a need to stand out and have our own identity.

Where this urge comes from some think is peer pressure and media influencing us without our ever realizing it. Perhaps we participate via applying peer pressure on other teens. What I find so obvious looking back on the whole process is: I was changing, or at least trying to, and I had no real idea who I was to start with! Does that thought sound familiar?

Almost all of us, except for that little group we never want to be seen with, were all busy trying to be unique, be different, and find ourselves. We wanted to discover who we were and find our life path. It turns out after the fact, we not the best at placing the idea of finding ourselves in action.

What we did instead was find everything and anything we could that generally led us as far away from ourselves as we can possibly get. The clothes we wore were suddenly not good enough. We have to have different clothes, and we were not happy until we have enough clothes to wear through the school week, plus different clothes on the week ends.

We looked for others ways to change. For teenage girls, makeup was the beginning. In a rush to be different, young girls suddenly need to wear makeup. With teenage boys it was usually a change in behavior. We no longer wanted to be seen doing or watching anything that may be considered a child’s activity. We did things in private that we always did, but in public we never mentioned a word of it and chastised those that admited to doing childish things.

In our teenage quest to find ourselves, we turned to those a few years older than us and tried to emulate them. Of course they were trying to emulate those people older than themselves, so in essence we were picking up their discards. A few of us looked for ourselves in less savory activities, mainly the worlds of addiction.

Our actor who is living our life for us continues acting into our forties. Without warning, we relive a memory from our past, see a picture or movie about when we were young, and it all comes rushing back. Like hitting a wall, we realize that in our rush to find our unique selves, all we did was create an acting role. Like falling off a bicycle, we realize we are no closer to finding ourself than we were twenty years ago.

Suddenly that small group we never wanted to get close too seems more appealing. It all makes sense, now that we have left the fog we were living in. That small group of people we shunned, maybe they had it right all along. They too were trying to find themselves.

What separates them from us, is they were smart about it. They somehow understood that what makes us unique had nothing to do with clothing, looks, or language. They spent all these years working on developing themselves instead of the actor we created all those years ago. Now the addicts our age, who have not perished of their personal poison start hitting bottom. They die, or they too finally decide to start looking for their real self too. They too realize that what they are doing is hollow and has no meaning.

Lucky for most of us, we can find out who we are, and uniquely qualified to be us fairly quickly if we want to. All we have to do is take the actor which has been living our life, and send him or her into retirement. Once the actor in us is retired, we begin to have a glimpse of who we really are, and what we are really about.

While completing the process, for real this time, of finding us, we can add another skill and chapter to the book that makes up our life. We all were actors at one time or another. Some of us better than others, though we can all add acting to the book of our life.

Some say it is the media influence, others peer pressure, yet others Satan in the shadows working his evil, which takes us away from what and who we are meant to be. It may one or two of those things, it may be hundred more, but most of us seem to fall the same piper. In the quest to find ourself we get lost in the wilderness. We wander around in a fog, wondering why we are not happy, or at least content.

It feels so good to see those waiting for us, holding up the sign at the end of our trail. The sign that says, “Welcome Back, We have been waiting for you, and we are so very glad you showed up!

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