A blanket of quiet has covered the sky, which is dropping flakes of white powder softly on the ground. The branches are sagging with the extra weight, and the creaking tree limbs are decorated in white lace. Our yard has become a magical winter wonderland.
Last Sunday was such a day, when this normally temperate part of Texas was coated in snow. Soon after I wrote to you, we started out with rain, which was quickly transformed to little balls of sleet, and then the sky opened up with sheets of snow. Three inches rapidly accumulated, and I did what any self-respecting child would do. I started a snowball fight with the kids upon arrival at the church parking lot, and when I got home, I went painting in the snow. How fun!!
When it snows here, once every two or three years, it takes us by surprise. It’s simply something we don’t expect. Writers often talk about “suspending disbelief” when watching or reading a work of fiction. But sometimes we have to suspend what we’ve believed and accept what is.
Life can be filled with moments of suspended belief.
Words I Did Not Expect
As a child, I never heard my parents swear. And if someone would have told me they sometimes did, I would never have believed them. It was something we did not do. Yet one day, when I was about 13, we were on our little boat docked at Lake Erie. My dad was on the floor with the engine all torn apart, trying to get it to work again. Suddenly, I see him struggling with getting a nut off, trying to turn the wrench with all his weight behind it. Crack! The wrench slipped, pinched his fingers, and he shouted “Dammit!”
I was mortified.
I had heard other kids say their parents swore, but mine never did, and I had just witnessed it. I did not know how to handle it. I can remember being very uncomfortable. I never said a word to anyone about it, as if I was holding a big dirty secret. And for the record, I don’t think I ever heard him swear again. Ever. All I could do was accept what I did not want to believe.
There’s a Name for It
The term is “cognitive dissonance” — when we hold one belief and suddenly have evidence that our belief was wrong. It’s a conflict between what we hold on to and what we now know. And people often try to minimize those feelings of conflict, refusing to recognize them and even avoiding new information. In my case, I was embarrassed, ashamed, and feeling a little guilty.
Have you ever experienced it?
Jolted in Disbelief
One time I was sitting in my office when my trusted colleague, who ran accounting, came in and sat down. “I need to talk to you,” he said. He went on to tell me that in his former job, he did something he thought was legal that turned out not to be. He told me he was giving his two-week notice because he was heading to prison for a year.
At that moment, my beliefs were suspended. I had known this guy for a couple of years. He was straight as an arrow, a nice man, and totally trustworthy. He was an integral part of my team. Suddenly, I had to deal with what he told me, and I could not believe it. Of all things, the man running my accounting was going to jail for something he did at another company. How could it be? Did he steal from me? How could I be so blind? At first I thought it was a prank. I really struggled with it and felt betrayed and confused.
Have you ever thought one thing about a person, only to find out something unbelievable?
When living in Salt Lake, our offices shared the floor with two other businesses and we got very acquainted with our neighbors. One day the police came in and dragged one of our neighbors out. This nice, quiet, friendly guy, it turns out, had been kidnapping and killing children and burying them in his yard. We were all horrified because our own kids had been around from time to time. He was one of the people we said hello to every day. He came to our parties. Again, I had to suspend my own beliefs. I was sure the police had to be wrong, and the court would find out it was someone else. But the evidence was strong, and he was convicted.
One of the most difficult things any of us can face is needing to let go of our beliefs when they are no longer right. Human nature is to hold on to and defend them, and when someone brings us absolute proof that we were wrong, we often continue to fight for what we believe, or, at least, we struggle with accepting the change. We want proof. And when we see proof we were wrong, we are often skeptical (which is generally a good thing). Maybe we think someone made it up, edited it, Photoshopped it, etc.
Suspending belief is like a roller coaster ride. It can be difficult, or it can be a fun show to watch and experience and one of the best parts about our personal growth.
Life has been filled with surprises where I’ve had to adjust my belief systems. People were often not what or who they said they were. Technology that wasn’t possible became possible. People I believed to be solid turned out to be disturbing.
If you ever want to have an uncomfortable day, write down everything you believe and don’t believe in your life. What you believe about the people you believe in. And don’t forget the people or things you don’t believe in.
Then ask yourself, in each case, why you believe what you do. “What was my original source? Is my belief still valid?” (Something like a simple online search might reveal new science.)
It’s also good to ask yourself, “Do I believe it because I want it to be true?
Chicken or Egg
For me, eggs are a great example. I don’t eat them, because my lifelong belief is that they are filled with fat and cholesterol. But that has been disproven. Turns out eggs are a good fat we need, and though they do have cholesterol, it’s not dangerous in moderation. Yet I still tend to cling to that past belief because I held it so long. It’s intellectually foolish but emotionally comforting.
Just because you think something is true isn’t evidence enough. Maybe it even used to be true, but no longer is. Maybe the voices we’ve trusted to tell us the truth (teachers, preachers, parents, friends, books, TV, radio, social media, celebrities) just keep saying things, either because they still believe them and never bothered to find out for themselves, or they are holding on to old information that has changed.
Five years ago my dad said to me, “What would happen if you could never hold any in-person events again? Could your business withstand it?” I told him that could never happen. Yet with COVID, it did. I had to suspend my beliefs and adopt new ones to survive.
What about you? What are you believing?
Are your beliefs serving you, or would different beliefs serve you better?
How have 2020 and early 2021 changed your beliefs?
What are you clinging to because you want to believe it?
What do you believe that is no longer true?
Try, if you can, to suspend your beliefs about everything.
Don’t accept the word of anyone else. Question every expert.
And if you find you’ve been believing something that is wrong, don’t beat up on yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
Find out for yourself. Be curious. It will serve you well.
PS: As strange as this may sound, I was never a big believer in watercolor. I suppose because it’s something we all did when we were kids. But then I saw the watercolor work of John Singer Sargent, I had to suspend my beliefs. In the past few years, I’ve been taking some watercolors with me in my carry-on bag so I can paint on business trips if I have time to kill. But, I’ve failed miserably. I was believing I simply could not do it.
But, once I started putting together our virtual watercolor conference, Watercolor Live, I’ve committed to getting good for those times when watercolor is my best option. I’m excited because, for the first time in history, we’ve put the world’s finest on our virtual stage to teach. It’s pretty special and I’m excited.
If you want to try watercolor, we have a beginners’ day. Or you can stay for all four days. And if you don’t love it by the end of your first day, you can get a full refund. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. If you sign up this week before Inauguration Day, you can save $300. Visit WatercolorLive.com