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Belief Systems and Assumptions

Belief Systems and Assumptions

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that people's experiences lead them to make assumptions about how the world "is" (beliefs) and organize these assumptions into systems

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Video Transcription

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We all have beliefs about how the world works. You do. I do. The people around us all have certain beliefs.

I'm Marlene. And in this tutorial, I'd like to look at how those beliefs and the assumptions that we form really influence us in conflict. So let's start off by defining belief.

A believe is a person's mental sense of what is true, or right, or correct in a given situation. So our beliefs, of course, come from our experiences-- our own experiences, the relationships we have, the communities we grow up in, what we read, even, what we hear, religious texts, history books. So if we grow up in the city, we have a certain set of experiences that help us form beliefs. If we grew up in the country, it might be another set of experiences. If we grew up rich, if we grew up poor-- all of these things shape our beliefs.

Now out of these beliefs we form assumptions. An assumption is an expectation formed from a person's belief. OK. So these assumptions form expectations.

For example, growing up in a family, perhaps you're growing up in a family where everybody works hard but nobody seems to get ahead. So no matter how hard you work, it's always going to be a dog-eat-dog world. I'm not going to make it. I don't think I'm going to get the American dream.

Or you may grow up in an environment where you believe, if I study hard, I'll get a scholarship. I go to college. I'll get a good job. I can have the American dream.

So based on the beliefs we have and the assumptions of how we think the world works, we have certain expectations. It could be that you think this is a dangerous world out there. Or it's a safe world. People have always had my back. I have a strong family system here. So we have these different assumptions.

Now we take our assumptions and put together, they form belief systems. So these assumptions here form belief systems. Let's define a belief system.

A belief system is a combination of belief that becomes a model for an aspect of a person's world. So what do I mean by that-- a model of the world? Well, a model of the world is the way we make sense of the world-- how it works.

So we have a group of beliefs that don't contradict each other. They're non-contradictory beliefs. We look at them all. We string them together, as it were. And it becomes a model for how we think the world works.

So a lot of these models are broadly shared. We grew up in this country, in America. We probably share a belief system that democracy is important-- freedom. Perhaps, we all went through 9/11. Those of us who did, that experience may have shaken us in terms of our own vulnerability as a nation. So that's affected our belief system.

So we share beliefs. However, each person also takes their unique experiences and evaluates them according to their own belief system. So we all have unique experiences that form the way we see the world and our own personal belief systems. The events in our life, the relationships, if someone experiences a personal tragedy when they're young-- perhaps the loss of a parent through death-- health issues, perhaps financial problems-- this is going to influence their belief system about how the world works.

On the other hand, if you win a scholarship, you travel abroad. Perhaps you had teachers that encouraged you. That also influences your belief system about how the world works.

Now one thing to know about belief systems is that they're slow to change. We have these stories about the way things work. So when we have new experiences, what we do is evaluate how to fit those experiences into our belief system. Does the experience confirm a belief system? Or does it challenge it?

For example, a person might have a particular belief system about a group of people. And they might think, OK. This group of people aren't getting ahead because they're lazy. They don't have the right values.

Perhaps they have an experience that might confirm that. Or maybe it would challenge it. Oh, perhaps it's not an equal playing field.

I've met this person. And I'm beginning to see that it might not be so clear here-- so black and white. Perhaps it's not an equal playing field out there. So the more we have experiences, the more we're able to either confirm or challenge our belief systems.

But as I said, those belief systems are slow to change. Oftentimes, we'll have an experience, and we want to fit it into our existing belief system. For example, there might be an experience where you say, well, women in construction jobs-- well, I never thought women should do construction jobs.

I don't think they're strong enough. I don't think they're able. They're taking jobs from men. That's my belief system.

And then you see a woman climbing up a pole doing a job. You're going to think, well, that's an exception. She's doing that. But most women are not going to want to do that.

Or it might challenge your belief system. Most often, we don't want to challenge dearly held belief systems. If we've grown up thinking the world works in a particular way, we're going to cling to that and try to fit whatever experiences we have as perhaps an exception to the rule. We'll ignore it. It's not the way it always happens.

So how does this affect conflict? Well, depending on what we do with our experiences, if we insist on making an experience confirm to our belief, that could escalate a conflict. Because we aren't as willing to take in new information.

Or perhaps it could de-escalate a conflict. So you're willing to understand, perhaps, that something might be different than the way you have always thought it would work or should work. So in a conflict situation, that could de-escalate the conflict.

So in closing, it's important to know how strongly we whole belief systems. Our beliefs just aren't individual beliefs out there. But they come together. They're strung together, almost like this necklace I have on. Each bead could be considered a belief.

And they're all held together here by the string-- the chain that holds the beads together. That chain is our belief system. And we keep trying to fit new beliefs onto the chain. It's much easier to do that then to change the belief system.

And there's the challenge for us when we're in conflict. Oftentimes, we're being challenged to change our belief system-- to move, to expand a bit. So I've enjoyed being with you during this tutorial. And I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

An expectation formed from a person's beliefs.


A person's mental sense of what is true or right/correct in a situation.

Belief System

A combination of belief that becomes a model for an aspect of a person's world.