I read that statement and became instantly indignant. No, we do not! I spluttered inside my own head. Or at least, I don’t. That’s a bunch of bullshit! And then I caught myself. Wasn’t I, in fact, reacting with skepticism to this new idea that had just been dropped in my lap? Yes, I had to admit it. This new idea did not flatter me, and it did not paint the prospect of me being part of a reasonable species in a hopeful light. So, I didn’t like it. And my ego immediately set about finding ways and means to shut it down, freeze it out, and bury it so deep I would forget that stupid old idea had ever even existed.
Belief systems can be a bitch, that’s for sure.
Lately I’ve been examining my belief systems around money, success, and personal power. The things I’ve uncovered have made me extremely uncomfortable. I’ve been reading books by businessmen, personal finance gurus, and unabashedly pro-capitalist investors. It’s not the points on which we disagree that have brought on anxiety and thrown me into resistance. It’s the wisdom and common sense of some of these authors that I can’t deny. It’s the clear vision, integrity, and admirable determination coming across in their words that’s made me take a serious second look at how I judge people and how I evaluate the world.
In the midst of this reading, I’ve also been working my way through Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. It won the Pulitzer Prize for its in-depth study of how various human societies have progressed through history, and why some societies came to dominate others. In the opening chapters Diamond details how the Spanish explorer, Francisco Pizarro, came to capture the Incan chief, Atahualpa, with 168 men against roughly 80,000 Incans.
This story intrigued me in two ways. First, my belief systems were directly challenged by reading the firsthand account Diamond includes from one of Pizarro’s men. The man wrote that the Spanish had no idea what they were walking into with Atahualpa and the Incas. They stumbled onto this settlement and nearly soiled themselves when they realized they were surrounded by thousands and thousands of strangers who may or may not have been hostile. They were 1,000 miles away from any other Spanish outpost (i.e., help and reinforcements) and they were in a part of the New World that, to their knowledge, had never been mapped. As they saw it, their only choice was to conquer, or be slaughtered.
In my old belief system I had already decided that every single European explorer who pushed himself into the New World was kind of an asshole. In my mind, the English, French and Spanish just sashayed in with a bunch of foolproof technology and an airtight plan, intent on massacre, destruction, and genocide. I had never considered that maybe some of these explorers were actually urinating on themselves in terror (and according to Pizzaro’s man, they were) and felt that they were fighting for their very survival.
I’m not saying it was that way for every European explorer. I’m just saying that it was a complex situation with real live human beings on both sides, and I had never seen it in quite that light before.
The second thing that intrigued me about this story is that Pizarro and his men were able to capture Atahualpa because they lured him into a simple trap. They sent word that they wanted to receive him at their camp, and promised that no harm would come to him. To us, this seems like an insanely absurd ruse. How was Atahualpa possibly that naïve? But that’s where things get really interesting, because one of the huge differences between the Incas and the Spanish was the level of communication tools and distribution of information. Specifically, Atahualpa had no prior knowledge of the Spanish or what they were capable of; he had no idea this band of men was only one head of the Hydra of the Spanish Empire. He had never heard of anyone being tricked in this way, at any time or any place, ever.
His belief system told him to go right ahead and meet with the Spanish. It wasn’t his fault that his belief system had huge, gaping holes in it.
But for us—the people of today who can access the internet in less than one second, from anywhere we please, at any time we please—if our belief systems are suffering from huge, gaping holes that drag down our quality of life, it really is our fault. And no one else’s.
This is why I’m stuffing my head with personal finance, investing, money tools, and sales and marketing material. Yes, it makes me super uncomfortable. I told myself for years that I’m “just not interested” in money and I “hate” marketing. Well, what if I was somebody who ate at McDonald’s every day, refused to exercise and then noticed I seemed to feel like shit most of the time? And what if I shut out all information about good nutrition, easy-to-use fitness tools, and stress relief? It would be clear that even if I wasn’t interested in how my body worked and how to take care of it, that I could turn my whole life around if I decided to become interested, right?
Atahualpa didn’t have much of a choice. He lived in the year 1532 in the middle of a South American jungle. Options were obviously limited. But we do have a choice. Every day, we can choose to decide what we want to become interested in. And I think you will find, as I did, that the topics that make you the most uncomfortable and challenge your belief systems in the most aggressive, ego-provoking way are the very subjects you need to learn the most about.
It’s not easy. But it can be interesting, and it can even start to get fun. Try it right now. Think of an area of knowledge that makes you uncomfortable and then Google a few good books that will begin to teach you the basics. Order one of those books and resolve to read it the whole way through.
And remember, when you’re at your most uncomfortable, this is a sign that you’re exactly where you need to be.