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Bike Stories: Belief

Hi, I’m Brunella, a young international girl living in Groningen and curious to know the everyday nature of the inhabitants of this city. One thing connects all human beings, regardless of gender, color, class, or sexuality, and that is the need to question everything and seek comfortable answers–as irrational as it might be. So, that’s how this series called Bike Stories began: where I ride my bike, find strangers, and interview different people with a question essentially related to what makes them ordinary humans.

This week’s theme: Belief. Our beliefs are something intrinsic and defining to our being. Humans, as conscious beings, have for a long time now created a nature of dependency on believing in something. Our convictions and certainties, more often than not, define our life purpose and real meaning in the absurdity of our world. Sometimes, we limit ourselves to recognizing belief as something solely religious or spiritual, but I believe that we all – in one way or another – believe in something. Even within the abundant growth of cynicism in our world, there is always a spark of uncertainty that leads people to believe and absolutize things into an unquestionable reality. 

This week, I met two people during my bike ride who have very different, yet very interesting, beliefs. They caught my attention, so I grabbed a coffee with them and had a chat about this topic. I asked them the following question: What do you believe in? And, whatever that may be, convince me to believe in that. Here I present their answers:

Person 1:

– I think that what I believe in is not something very tangible. I cannot call it an absolute belief, I doubt it can be generalized as a human truth. Belief is something quite personal to me, by telling you what I believe, I confess to you who I am.

So what is it that you believe in?

– I believe I have an intrinsic desire for knowledge and experience, which somehow is independent and dependent on me. I have submerged myself in the academic world for decades, uncovering every corner of the written universe in an attempt to satisfy my perpetual curiosity. I have fed her up with knowledge on every single one of my passions, and even now I can say I still have long paths to travel in my academic career. However, throughout my life, I have also learned through active experience. Not everything can be explained with knowledge, we oftentimes lack words to write down accurate descriptions of everything going on around and within us. Life experiences have taught me to live unconsciously, through sensations and simplicity, which is in opposition to the knowledge of living. These two contradictions I have learned to balance, which has shaped my belief in the meaning of life.

And what is it you can gain from experiencing life detached from knowledge?

– Well, I believe that there is a language in this world. The language of experiences and life, of the things around us that we forget to listen to. This language has a lot to say, but it often lives in silence, which is why by experiencing things one dives into the bellybutton of the universe and feels this message flow through them. Sometimes, it’s not even about the message itself. I also believe that the universe is in constant expansion. There will never be a point in my life where I will find the answer to everything, as everything is infinite and limits are too human to be true. Hence, it’s about the journey of this expanding connection, about the experiencing itself rather than the experiences. I believe that through this the universe can be discovered, or at least part of it, that part that suits you best as an individual.

Do you think the universe should be discovered?

– Well, partially, I must admit that the idea of discovering the universe is quite attractive. There is something quite sensual about following our human role of discovery, even to extents beyond our galaxy. I am a curious person and I love knowledge. Learning new things every day is a crucial and enriching part of my life experience. However, I do believe in a certain subjectivity to all of this. I think that as human beings, with aspirations and hopes, we create the universe as we make sense of it. I reject the belief that there is a static truth about everything. There are some veridical objective truths, but there is also the individual truth. In the end, there is no universe without the knowledge and experiences we fabricate from it. It is quite delicious to see the universe and truth under this light, under the human hand, and inseparable from it. We are all intertwined in one big massive thing, which even if we try to understand, we most likely will never get just right. So, we must make our own truth real to live in peace with ourselves.

So, in a nutshell, what is it that you believe in?

– I believe in the existence of a personal truth. Whether this truth is objective or subjective defeats the whole purpose of the truth. I believe in my personal truth, which survives through the harvesting of my curiosity. Through the pursuit of knowledge and experience, I am able to make sense of my life, to feel purposeful and fulfilled. Digesting big obscure truths is very difficult, yet when putting everything into perspective, we might have some control over our happiness. I believe there is a way to the universe that only exists because I believe in it, and hence, I try to listen and observe how I grow within this realm. My personal truth is my belief, and my ability to change it as it changes me is my way to live my life to the fullest.

Person 2:

– I would like to believe in something spiritual. I feel like religion would be a good answer to this question, but it’s not mine, and I would not be truthful if I called it so.

Then what do you believe in?

– I thought I believed in God, but not anymore. I was so afraid of dying that believing in something so strongly was very comforting. But as I grew older and more conscious of the truths I could not avoid, I had to come to terms with the fact that God was not enough of a reason for me. So, I now believe in other things, like people.

After having no major reason to be, no monumental aspirations or cosmic beliefs, I learned to look for answers under the stones in my daily path. Knowing how to see and listen to people is a world of its own, into which I immersed myself. Through this recognition of our internal locus of control, I became aware of many of my own attributes, good and bad, which made me question myself deeply. I illustrated within my own experience the duality of human beings, our eternal dichotomy between good and evil, and that which dwells in that uncomfortable middle ground, that wobbly bridge of humanity, which no one wants to understand or recognize. The grayness intrigued me, so I began believing in that.

So, what do you think makes this duplexity within humans?

– Today, I believe that people in this world have an innate nature, which is not built through one’s upbringing or family. A fundamental essence of their being that is unique, and I saw that the balance between good and evil is found within this nature. Some people are born kinder than others, not because of how they are, as that is constructed, but because of who they are in essence.

I can see this with my sister. We were raised the same way, with the same parents, the same school, the same environment, the same morals, and yet we are like night and day. My sister is an extremely caring person. She thinks of others before considering herself, and even in moments of unfairness, her generosity goes beyond who she has in front. I function differently. I can’t help but think about myself first. I don’t do it consciously, although I am aware of it. But this has no normative value, it doesn’t make me a bad person to be more selfish. Just like my sister, I try every day to be the best version of myself and treat others as I would like to be treated. However, I don’t want to lie to myself. As a matter of fact, I believe that lying to one’s self is deteriorating to one’s personal growth. I was made to work differently and I cannot live the rest of my life hating myself for it.

How do you reconcile this with what others think of selfishness?

– Realizing this hurt me a lot at first, as no one wants to be selfish. But I realized that I cannot fight against my own nature. I am who I am, and I try every day to be better despite my faults: that is my raw and honest nature. By learning to trust myself, allowing my genuine and unforced goodness to prevail when it had to, I have also learned to read this authenticness in people. This veritable essence does not need to be dissected as much as it should be trusted. Believing in the existence of goodness, without being blinded to its brotherhood with cruelty, has been a great liberation to me. I don’t need to be anything I am not, and I am still selfless in spite of being selfish. I am still good. I don’t believe that people are inherently bad, just as I don’t believe that people are inherently good. There is no one mold to build a person, we are just many individual worlds coexisting in one.

So, in a nutshell, what is it that you believe in?

– People are unique and irreproducible in their own way. I believe in the essence of human beings, but this is not an objective essence. It is a mass that flows, changes, and extrapolates. We are very intolerant in our society towards the diversity of an essence. We like truths, especially absolute and unquestionable ones. But we ourselves are not so simple. When differences are repressed, they explode in an ecstasy of emotion, and usually, it is easier to adopt an extreme position than to reflect and try to understand: it is easier to hate someone than to find reasons to love them. Intense minds are very powerful, but we don’t like to contradict ourselves and live in a range of grays. Therefore, we judge. I have promised myself not to judge, and to accept the good and bad in people, as well as within myself. That is why I believe in the human essence, and through this duality, I live.

Beliefs are a curious thing. We all have them and live by them, even if we don’t realize it, or reject the control that they hold over our lives. However, what if beliefs were neither our enemies nor our allies, what if beliefs were simply part of our characteristics as humans? I don’t come here to defend the naturality of the biology of beliefs, as I don’t have an objective opinion of them myself. I just invite you all to now think about your beliefs, and ask yourself the question of what you believe in and why.