Monday, February 22, 2010

Opening to Inquiry and Understanding

It takes a lot of courage to admit when we’re wrong. Being wrong for the longest time was never my strong suit; in fact, my former Self would fight to the bitter end to be right. Self-righteousness has been one of my most challenging lessons in this lifetime but over the last several years, I’ve learned how to step out of it, and how unproductive it is in my life and relationships.

How does self-righteousness serve you? For many, it’s a security blanket that protects us from our vulnerabilities; exposing and sharing these with others can feel painful. Self-righteousness is often used as a protective shield for our lack of self-confidence and understanding of things outside of our comfort zone. It serves as a firewall for fear, not allowing anyone or anything to reveal or admit underlying fears we hold within about others’ judgment, rejection, or perception, and more specifically, what we think and believe of ourselves. Self-righteousness serves as a cover, a misty haze that hides our deepest uncertainties and self-doubt about who we are, what we believe, and how we feel about ourselves. In this case, we use the energy of self-righteousness as a defense mechanism to hide self-doubts about our own beliefs that we’ve adopted as our truth but aren’t fully resonating within us. Through self-righteousness, we steel ourselves with the very belief we are questioning, heels dug in without open-mindedness or inquiry that can lead to deeper understanding and clarity. In digging in, we stand on the defense when threatened by a new idea or belief to protect ourselves from faltering in our own comfort zone of “what we know.” Finally, self-righteousness can be worn like a badge of “I’m holier than thou.”

The problem is we simply don’t nor can we ever know everything. If we step back and really take a look at what’s going on beneath the stormy surface of self-righteousness, we may reveal a new truth about ourselves, one that presents an opportunity for growth and ironically, an even deeper faith in what we do believe in. A practicing Catholic for most of my life, I remember questioning God and my religious beliefs during difficult times. In one instance, I sought information through participation in a program supporting those seeking conversion to Catholicism. The group was facilitated by an eighty-something year-old Catholic woman who had more energy than I did, and by all appearances was a steady ship of faith and conviction. On a break, I asked her how does she never question her religious belief and the Catholic teachings, to which she responded shamelessly, “Oh, but I do question all the time!” She went on to tell me that it was in the questioning that she became more certain and rooted more deeply in her faith.

Her teaching remains with me thirteen years later as I continuously ask questions not only of my own beliefs, but that of others, seeking a deeper, richer understanding of myself and others. Through this effort, I have moved from the space of self-righteousness into a place of unconditional and respectful acceptance. When I hold confidence in and around my own personal faith and beliefs, I enjoy greater peace and harmony within myself and with others. But those moments around judgment and self-righteousness are faith-deepening opportunities revealed. I lean into these classrooms to further release any fears and feelings of threat that I hold within myself. To release self-righteousness means that we stop “should-ing” on ourselves and others, we cease controlling how people need to believe or show up in a belief or viewpoint. When we focus on others’ beliefs, our own personal and spiritual belief gardens are left unattended and neglected. Share your beliefs with others through how you show up in the world. We can stand firmly within our beliefs without hammering others over the head with them. We can share our beliefs when appropriate without disrespecting another’s through criticism, argumentativeness, dictating how they should think, show up, choose, live and act in their own life. In doing so, we stop robbing ourselves of all the infinite possibilities of rich and meaningful relationships and knowledge available to us; and, we expand our consciousness in our world and its unique God Expression.

No one can take what we believe away from us; the unfortunate events leading to the Holocaust proved this truth especially for the Jewish faith. Only we decide what we believe and don’t believe, whether we seek harmony or judgmental conviction, understanding or ignorance. Trust your own faith system, and if it’s challenging you, open up to exploring that uneasiness you feel when encountering a different belief. You may learn something new and find shared commonalities within the differing beliefs; and, you may affirm more deeply that which you believe personally for yourself. Either way, through the release of self-righteousness, we create a world of greater harmony and peace, one that is inclusive and respectful, one without dictatorial attitudes. Choose understanding over ignorance. Choose inquiry and healthy dialogue over self-righteousness. And choose peace and love over upset and judgment.

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