Fri. Apr 12th, 2024
Written by Robert Warden
Robert Warden

Yesterday, I came upon the following link on my Facebook homepage, which was on my friend Keith Koelling’s timeline. It made me think about something, as the social psychologist that I am. The quote is about “things worth believing in.” Ordinarily, the logical part of me might dismiss this quote by asking. “What if these things are not true.” However, with regard to philosophical beliefs, it is never so simple as whether a belief is true or not.

Another line of thinking is that we create our own truths. However, I am not really going there, either. For instance, I am not going to say that if I believe that the fall midterms will result in huge gains for Democrats, because I want it to be so, that is going to make it true. In fact, a logical perspective on the midterms will conclude that Democrats should hold onto the majority in the Senate, but doing so in the House of Representatives, while possible, will be an uphill battle.
What I am suggesting is something different from either the “stark reality” approach, or the “wishful thinking” approach. The quote, spoken by Robert Duvall in movie “Second Hand Lions,” asserts that it is worth believing that people are basically good; that honor, courage and virtue mean “everything;” that power and money mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil, and that true love never dies. Duvall goes on to say that it doesn’t matter whether these things are true or not; what matters is that people should believe them because they are worth believing in.
Actually, these lines could have practically been taken straight from a book by founding Humanistic Psychologist, Carl Rogers, who has been enormously influential, and a founder of positive approaches to psychology – that is, focusing on what makes people good and well-functioning, as opposed to what makes people mentally pathological, or do evil things. And this is the crux of my argument – one that I have often made in one form or another over the years.
To put it bluntly, the beliefs expressed by Duvall in this movie, make people become better people, and more responsible and productive members of society. They help society to advance, rather than stagnate or devolve into something worse. They do not guarantee good outcomes by any means; there is no magic going on here. However, having the appropriate set of attitudes, encourages people to persist in the face of adverse circumstances, and progress when there is a chance to do so. Despair is not an option. Pessimism and cynicism, while sometimes warranted, can be the enemy of progress, especially when taken too far or when they become default positions. This is why I have always felt that the best default position is optimism, and faith in our fellow human beings. Being a default position, it is subject to making exceptions for daunting circumstances, or for people who prove themselves unworthy and untrustworthy. However, the core beliefs remain.
One may not specifically agree with everything said in the quote, or the way it was said, but as hopeful, progress-oriented human beings, we each need a kind of positive core belief. It is our positive beliefs which will propel us forward, and make the most of our opportunities to thrive and evolve as a society. To the extent that they do, these beliefs will prove to be true.


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