There’s many types of belief. Religious belief, political belief, how much you trust one friend over another.
Many people believe what they grew up to believe – what they were encouraged or told to believe. But I was raised by a single mother who had perhaps the most hands-off approach to raising me that I could possibly imagine. In a good way. She never encouraged me to believe in anything. She left me to form my own conclusions.
I’m very against the concept of dogma. The ten point plan; the eight rules; the 5 laws. They might make sense for people in a particular part of the world or at a particular time in history. But if anything, I believe in progressiveness…mixed with pragmatism. Offering the right amount of progress at the right time in order for people to better themselves.
I’ve read a lot, watched a lot – forgotten probably the vast majority. I guess I probably have a lot of beliefs that I’m not even fully aware of. I never discuss them. But then when I have to think about it, I become aware of it. So when I studied Buddhism…
(I encountered Buddhist texts in the second-hand shops in Nottingham when I was at university. Just like the Oxford “very short introductions to…” and things like that. Because if I think about it, one thing I believe in is self-improvement. Always learning. If you stop learning new things, you stop evolving. Change is the only constant)
…So anyway when I studied Buddhism, I came across things that matched what I already believed. So for example I don’t believe in self-intoxication. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t take drugs. That’s not from some religious notion that it’s a sin, or that it’s against the law, but because I don’t want to put myself in a situation in which I’m unable to make a logical intelligent decision.
Again, no one taught me this. I wasn’t from a tea-total house. But I think many of the problems in the world are caused by people acting without thinking. And if there’s something that further limits your brains ability – that seems to me counterintuitive.
I was born in the mid-80s in an ex-mining town. A very deprived community. I still have a newspaper clipping from ’91, which said the unemployment rate was 60%. Staggeringly high. And bear in mind that the mine had already been closed for 10 years at that point. And it’s still that high! And that’s also the same in the neighbouring towns – a mine here, a mine here, a mine here. And so no one can find work. I’ve got photos from that period that show whole streets boarded up. Windows, doors. And so in a community like that there tends to be a lot of alcohol problems and drug problems. It’s not like it’s expensive. So you see what it does to people. You look at a house and there’s literally a kitchen sink in the garden. Or a toilet on a roof. Literally.
I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist but I am inspired by Buddha. Growing up with a life of luxury, going out into the world, seeing all the suffering, and then seeking enlightenment. And recognising life is suffering and seeking to rise above it – nothing matters. Now I don’t think I want that. I want things to matter. But still the striving for a balanced way inspires me.
So, yes, as I say, for me belief is often beneath the surface and you suddenly read something and realise, “oh yeah – that’swhat I believe. Now I have the words”
Of course, in reality, I’m a total hypocrite. I say I believe in self-improvement, but then I should be spending every evening learning Dutch or reading. I could be working towards a better job, which would then give me a more balanced life that’s more enjoyable day-to-day. Instead I think, “nah I’m just going to watch Netflix”. But at least I recognise I’m a hypocrite! [laughing].
You know the only thing I didn’t mention is Star Trek. The fundamental point of Star Trek is they’re radically equal – they’ve found utopia. There is no racism. They go into space and try to make things better. Fight racism. Fight autocracy.
I know plenty of people from my town who are ignorant racists. Why? Because everyone’s white, perhaps? But I grew up watching this program with people of all colours and shapes, where everyone respects each other, and seeing that I just thought, “why wouldn’t everybody strive towards that?”