By Jini Li
February 8, 2017
Everything in life counts. Whether it counts as a positive, a negative or a neutral all depends on our perspective, how we measure things. The power of thought gives us the power to create.
The way we measure things comes from our values, what we think is important. To place a value on or to devalue something, we must make a judgement. We judge things as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant based on our instincts, our emotions, the neuropathways we have developed, our patterns of thought. The way we see things is influenced by our upbringing, our culture, our education, our experiences, our genetic makeup, and our beliefs.
Our upbringing has given us fundamental perspectives. These may seem remote or even foreign to us when we are trying to figure ourselves out, because we don’t commonly remember our earliest years. In the first three years of our lives, the one hundred billion neurons of the human brain form three hundred trillion connections, and it is interesting to note that tests have suggested that it is social interactions in our early lives that successfully develop learning in the brain (Stephenson, 2017). We often find ourselves thinking about what could have happened in those earliest, formative years and how those things have contributed to the way we are now.
Our cultural environment contributes to our development by promoting certain values, behaviors and beliefs through facilitation, while constraining other aspects of how we are through suppression (Chen, 2009). Cultural influences come from family, peers, social groups and general society. Culture has a big influence on self-expression. The freedoms we feel with regards to sharing ourselves with others can be a product of cultural restraints and allowances. In some cultures, speaking up is valued and expressing excitement is welcome, while in other cultures people respect deep, silent contemplation and less dramatic expression. It is not uncommon for people of different cultures to misinterpret gestures and behavior. Greater understanding of others is gained when exposure to different cultural settings is increased.
Our education and the way our education is viewed has an impact on the way we view ourselves and the way we are treated. Worship of knowledge has caused us to undervalue ignorance. When we feel knowledgeable we tend to ask fewer questions, while when we feel ignorant we are inquisitive. Knowledge gained through book learning alone can make us ignorant indeed, and even cheat us out of valuable learning by causing us to be arrogant and overconfident. Training as opposed to official education, on the other hand, tends to empower us by developing our skills and self-confidence. Self-education is especially effective, because people tend to educate themselves about things they are interested in or for which they have a passion. Interest and passion drive people in ways that coerced education cannot. They drive us to learn through experiencing and shed light on the unknown.
Our experiences validate or invalidate our opinions. They either confirm or alter our perceptions. Experiences are our guides. They teach us who we are and how we feel. Our experiences root us, expand us and make us grow. Experiences can close or open our minds depending on how we perceive and process them. They push us one way or another, back and forth until we are on track. Courage is the friend of experience. it allows us to reveal ourselves and make connections. It makes us curious and daring. Exposure to more people and more experiences increases awareness, both of ourselves and those around us.
Our genetic makeup is believed to have a great influence on who we are. In recent years, the study of epigenetics has been fascinating. Epigenetics is the study of how gene expression is changed, even though the gene itself has not been surgically altered. There are numerous studies about the role our thoughts and emotions play in gene expression, and can make us ill or help us heal. You probably have stories of your own about how your outlook changes the way you respond physically.
Our Values & Beliefs
Our values and beliefs play a big role in our decision-making processes. This has been validated by scientific research that has revealed that there is a specific part of the brain that becomes active when people are called to make decisions that involve values and beliefs – the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (also called “ventral medial prefrontal cortex,” or VMPFC). Our beliefs might be stemming from religious, political, social, racial, gender, sexuality or nationalistic belief or other secular systems, but regardless of where they come from, they activate the VMPFC part of the brain (Bond, 2010). This is this same part of the brain that informs our behaviors with regards to rewards and consequences (Wouter Van Den et al., 2009) that assists us to make social decisions.
Our beliefs and values are things we hold dear, and often things we are willing to give our lives to protect. But how are these beliefs developed? How have they been validated by our experiences? Are our beliefs the result of our upbringing, our culture, our education, our experiences, and our genetic makeup? What role do beliefs play in the formation of our perceptions? What makes our perceptions right or wrong? Is there such a thing as right or wrong?
Regardless of what we believe, there is no doubt that our beliefs and where we place our faith, play an important role in our expressions of who we are, who we think we are, and in our happiness. Our beliefs are expressed in our thought processes first, and are then manifested in our behaviors where they become tangible and speak to others.
When we look in the mirror or are mirrored by others, we may see things about ourselves that we judge to be negative, and therefore have the desire to transform. But our life learning and validation have so solidified that our thought processes have resulted in hard habits, habits that are a challenge to change. I would like to invite you to consider that this is exactly where our power of choice comes into play. Can our power of choice be stronger than our engrained habits? I believe so.
Our thoughts become manifested in the world of action in many forms. They are not always obvious to us until we take the time to observe them through meditation, but they reveal themselves in the way we treat each other and the way we decide to spend our time. They show their colors in our values and our opinions. How are our thoughts colored, and what role have we personally played in their development? What role can we play in their creation and can we carve a pathway for them to travel? As discussed earlier, there are a lot of things outside ourselves that have influenced the way we think. In this, we have probably played a very passive position. We have the power within us to change this position and alter our reality, and we can do this through contemplation and active participation in releasing undesired patterns of thought and creating new neuropathways. Those of our own choosing.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Bond, A. (March 1, 2010). Belief in the Brain, sacred and secular ideas engage identical areas. Retrieved from the Scientific American Website: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/belief-in-the-brain/
Chen, X.Y. (June 2009). Culture and Early Socio-Emotional Development. Retrieved from Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development Website: http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/culture/according-experts/culture-and-early-socio-emotional-development
Stephenson, H. (2017). The first year of life. Retrieved from National Geographic Website: http://www.ngllife.com/first-year-life-0
Wouter Van Den, B., and Güroğlu, B. (June 17, 2009). The Role of the Ventral Medial Prefrontal Cortex in Social Decision Making. 29 (24) 7631-7632. Retrieved from the Journal of Neuroscience: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/29/24/7631
Image of the Frontal Medial Prefrontal Cortex: Nature.com from Neuropsychopharmacology January 2007 – Vol 32 No 1 About the Cover image, retrieved from: http://www.nature.com/npp/journal/v32/n1/covers/index.html