The Power of Belief, and its Impact on Self, Other and Larger Society.

I’ve missed connecting with everyone this month. I’ve allowed myself to get sidetracked and haven’t taken time for the joy of reading and sharing. As I settle in this morning, I find my brain still distracted by work and the issues of our larger world. It’s truly a mindset and one that I intend to shift. In this spirit, I share the following. A thought-provoking fable by Edwin Friedman, entitled The Power of Belief.

“One evening a man came home and announced that he was dead. Immediately, some of his neighbors tried to show him how foolish this notion was. He walked, and dead men cannot move themselves. He was thinking, his brain was functioning, and he was breathing; and that, after all, is the quintessence of living. But none of these arguments had any effect. No matter what reason was brought to bear against his position, no matter how sensible the argument, the man maintained that he was dead.

He parried their thrusts with ingenious skill. He seemed to have a way of constantly putting the burden of proof on the other. He never quite came right out and said, “Prove it.” But that was the message implied, not so much by how he answered as by how he avoided any answer at all.

Every now and then someone thought, “Now I’ve pinned him down!” having brought evidence so obvious no one could deny it. But then he would use his trump: “If I am dead, you do not exist either, since surely the living do not traffic with the dead.”

Eventually most of his friends and neighbors quit arguing and the handful who were left, including his own family, became increasingly afraid. Several of them reached the same conclusion: He had gone mad or, at the very least, was suffering from some erratic mental process. Exhaustion from work, perhaps? A brain tumor? He needs a rest, we’ll call a doctor, perhaps a psychiatrist, maybe the family physician, or minister. The man, however, was not upset by these suggestions. He shrugged them off without reply and finally said, “I don’t know what’s the matter with you all. It is just absurd to think of a dead man as tired, let alone sick.”

 His wife, almost literally beside herself, took to carrying on a dialogue within. (“If he believes this, then how can he say that? If he does that, how can he think this?”) As the mixture of fear and frustration thickened, it was finally agreed that outside help must be called.

A psychiatrist was invited over to interview him. After some preliminary greetings and a few routine questions, the doctor asked to see the man alone. He readily agreed. The two went into another room and closed the door. Now and then an elevated voice broadcast itself over the transom, although nothing could be understood. It was clear, however, that the voice they heard getting louder always belonged to the clinician.

Sometime later, both men emerged. The doctor had his jacket over his arm, his necktie had been loosened, and his collar opened (in fact, the button was no longer there). As for the man, he seemed totally unchanged. “Hopelessly psychotic,” muttered the psychiatrist. “You will have to have him committed. He has lost all awareness of reality. If you want, I’ll call the hospital and see if they have a room.” “Now, really,” said the man calmly, “what kind of therapy would you prescribe for a dead man? Surely, sir, if it were known that you had tried to cure a man who was not even alive…talk about losing one’s grip on reality.” The doctor started to answer, caught himself, and then, with measured calm, said to the others, “I haven’t finished dinner yet. If you want me to call the hospital, give me a ring.”

 A member of the clergy was sought. The family minister was unavailable. Which type would be best? The modern kind who had some sophistication about psychological problems? Or perhaps a good old-fashioned fundamentalist? “Let’s fight fire with fire,” said someone. As it happened, that evening, a well-known evangelist was in town to speak at a nearby theater. When she heard about the problem, she rushed over, thinking how her success might be used to introduce the show. Once again, the group was left to strain after voices behind a closed door. Again, nothing that was audible, again the rising tone, again never the man’s voice rising. This time the clergyperson came out alone, stopped, looked at everyone, nervously kissed her little black book, and bolted out the door. Several cautiously peeked into the room; the man was fast asleep.

It was now decided that the family doctor should be called. She had known the man since he was a little boy, and besides being a physician with a reputation for patience and skill, she was respected everywhere for her homey wisdom. She came quickly, and after one or two questions in front of everyone, asked the man in a no-nonsense way, “Tell me, do dead men bleed?” “Of course not,” said the man. “Then,” said the doctor, “would you allow me to make a small cut in your arm, say above the elbow? I will treat it; there’s no reason to worry about infection. I’ll stop the flow immediately, and we can see, once and for all, whether you are dead.” “Dead men do not get infections, nor do they bleed, doctor,” said the man, as he proceeded to roll up his sleeve. With everyone watching anxiously, the doctor deftly slit the flesh, and blood came spurting out. There was a gasp of joy throughout the group. Some laughed, others even applauded, though a few seemed rather to be relieved. The doctor quickly dressed the wound and turned to everyone, saying, “Well, I hope that puts an end to this foolishness.”

Everyone was congratulating the physician when they suddenly realized that the man was headed for the door. As he opened it, he turned to the group and said, “I see that I was wrong.” Then, as he turned to leave, he added, “Dead men, in fact, do bleed.”  Edwin H. Friedman

As always Freidman’ s work is full of wisdom, places to reflect, further questions, and because it centers around the human condition stands the test of time. In his book Friedman’s Fables he offers Discussion Questions, I’ve added a few here and hope you will find them thought provoking.

  1. Would you describe the man in this tale as persistent, rigid, stubborn, idealistic, contrary, or principled?
  2. At what point can you be sure that reason is not going to change another’s mind set?
  3. What’s the difference with unassailable beliefs and cherished beliefs?
  4. What evidence would it take to change your most cherished beliefs?
  5. How do you come to hold those beliefs with conviction?
  6. What is the best thing to do when an entire organization, or complete civilization, is under the influence of totally incorrect beliefs?

It seems these are important questions. We are certainly living in a time when understanding our own and other’s convictions (through willingness to honestly listen, hear, and find places of understanding the personal and deeper meaning) could make a large impact.

As always, I hope you find something of value in this sharing. I look forward to and welcome hearing your thoughts.

My genuine care to you,

LaDonna

Copyright Protected Material: © 2022 LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW. All rights reserved. Written content on this blog (Perspective on Trauma) is the property of the author LaDonna Remy, MSW, LICSW. Any unauthorized use or duplication without written permission of the author/ owner of this web log is prohibited. Excerpts or quotes may be shared in the event the author is fully cited with reference and direction to this blog.

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National Hotlines: 
Treatment Referral Helpline: (1-877-726-4727)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (1-800-273-8255)

Photo: Image found on Pixabay

References:

Friedman, Edwin H. (1990) Friedmans Fables. The Guilford Press, New York, London.

49 thoughts on “The Power of Belief, and its Impact on Self, Other and Larger Society.

  1. I’m very appreciative that you could share this lovely post LaDonna. Very insightful and indeed very thought provoking. I’m reminded that we all have different ways in overcoming and that it’s not easy to accept other view points and changing our beliefs. So much more to think about. Thank you for sharing🌸💕❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. WOW, LaDonna, not only is this a very good story, but the underlying message about convictions is so relevant in our day and time. 👏🏼 Your last question struck a chord with me: What is the best thing to do when an entire organization, or complete civilization, is under the influence of totally incorrect beliefs?

    Over the past several years I have seen extremism play out in just about every aspect of our society. This simply astonishes me. Even if something is proven wrong, there will still be people who are determined to be convicted by someone else’s wrongful doings and way of thinking. But thinking about your last question, it is with the hope that individuals, organizations, or civilizations, in general, will see the error in their ways and make the necessary corrections to the convictions they uphold. Over the decades I have seen folks determined to think how they want to think, no discussion…no compromise…no logical reasoning… regardless of the consequences.

    While I don’t have an answer to that, I pray that people will truly learn from their mistakes and do better to not become a slave to incorrect beliefs and actions. Thanks so much for sharing such a profound piece, my dear. I hope that in light of the number of suicides we hear about daily, your contact resources will be utilized as needed. Have a FANtabulous day my friend. 🌞🙏🏼🌟

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Kym for your reflection and insight. These are truly times of entrenched beliefs. I too hope and am hopeful that better listening and understanding can occur. It could make an incredible difference.

      We do have a rise in all social and health issues, and can never know the struggle someone may be facing. I always want to add the resource to my posts in the event it is ever needed. And, I am always hopeful it isn’t.

      I appreciate you and your wisdom. I hope your weekend ahead is a good one. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I appreciate you LaDonna. Your messages are always thought provoking and gives me something to truly think about deeply. Ironically, your topic is one that has been penetrating and meddling with my spirit for a long time now. I suppose there is never a solution until we have come to the table to have that conversation which is so vitally important to healing.

        Spot on girlfriend! 🎯 Stay well my dear friend. 🙏🏼💖👏🏼

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thought provoking share, LaDonna. The whole time I was reading, I was thinking of the man being dead in the sense that he hated his job, life, etc. I appreciate the question you shared on civilization. It caused me to consider that many people who enslave themselves to external power and money are dead, as well. Like so many politicians. And what can be done to change their beliefs about what really matters and bring them back to life?? A question for our times. 🌞

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your reflection Lisa. I appreciate what you have said. It is thought provoking to think of this as enslavement while living. I can see this. We are living through a profound period for certain.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is certainly an interesting post, LaDonna! I thought it from a few different contexts.

    The first is through the pandemic and the global debate whether to get vaccinated or not. In our province today, the trucker convoy protest of vaccine mandates – which has also trickled into American news headlines – has organized a huge protest in our downtown area. So I’m staying home. 😊 But it’s interesting to see the clash of two sets of mindsets: the vaccinated vs the unvaccinated. I personally choose to believe in science and I try to wrap my head around why the unvaccinated have this perspective. Are they like this man who is convinced he is dead. And what is the moment that will get them to realize that they also bleed?

    I think about this story from the context of mental illness, of which one of family members suffers from. Nothing the family can do or say will convince this individual they need help and to seek help. I wonder what that knife to the elbow moment will be sometimes.

    I think of this lastly from the context of aging people, such as my mother, who are set in their ways. And how interesting those conversations and relationships are to navigate.

    You gave us lots to think about and to reflect on as always. And for that, I say thank you once again. 😊🙏 Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your response and solid reflection Ab. These truly are multilayered issues and times we live in.

      The vaccination issue is such a difficult one to comprehend and has turned unsafe in so many areas across our world. I’ve read a bit about The Trucker Convoy in Canada and we are hearing of replication of the movement here in terms (at this point) of intended responses. I am sending lots of care to you and your fellow citizens. I also am glad you will be home during this protest.

      I appreciate what you have shared about your family member. It can certainly be a complex set of feelings in navigating these belief systems. My care to you as you continue this.

      I additionally hope all is well with your mother. I can always hear how much you care for her when you have written regarding her, and can appreciate the reflection regarding navigating connection with our loved ones of differing generations. Especially in this current climate.

      I genuinely appreciate your sharing and places you allowed the fable to take you.

      Many good wishes are sent your way along with hopes that you and yours stay safe and well. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks LaDonna. We live away from the city core. No protests here. 😊🙏

        Thanks again for sharing such lovely posts on a monthly basis. I look forward to them always. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. LaDonna, your blog has been with me for a few hours, very thoughtful and thought provoking. While it is tempting to write a blog on your blog 😊 as my mind goes in many directions, the thing I keep coming back to is nowhere in the story do I read any inquiry to the man as to what it is like for him to be dead. What is that like for you? How did you come to that? How do you want to be with us now that you are dead? When we bump up against something that is foreign to our sense of reality we push ahead to convince one of their error without listening or even asking the questions. I also think of those in prison for their convictions, their beliefs, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. An excellent article to share with my teen grands the next time we are together. It will be a rousing discussion! Much gratitude for the thoughts of the day. 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Janis. These are such good questions in regard to understanding the others perspective. Listening with the ability to truly hear is such a necessary ingredient in all relationships. And so important in our climate today.

      I agree we need less pushing against. And a willingness to be more curious as apposed to threatened.

      I appreciate your examples of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Ghandi whose strong convictions have impacted us and our world in such profound ways.

      Thank you for such an insightful share.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. A wonderful story. One can certainly see the connections with today’s society in the US. And many of those points are highlighted in the other comments. I’ll diverge here, being a bit mischievous, and make a different sort of comparison. Instead of saying I’m dead, I’ll say I’m living in a land, place, and time that is nothing but illusion. Not sure what the doctors or my neighbors might say, but the philosophers have always had fun with this one. I imagine I’m a bit rigid in this belief too 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  7. LaDonna, I also read this and sat with this for awhile. There are so many ways we don’t know what’s going on within another person. Is his view skewed? Or is it our view that can’t understand his unique perspective? It could be either way. What this story made me ponder is those who die to a sense of the personal self and perhaps become “enlightened” although I think that’s a misnomer. That person could say they are dead because they’re now totally identified with the impersonal, that which transcends. But I doubt they’d go around saying they were dead. More likely they’d just smile… But what do I know? Thanks for this intriguing post.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What a lovely post for my Sunday early afternoon. This story speaks to me of the all-encompassing power behind the construction of individual reality. You could argue that the man was foolish, stubborn, rigid, and or disciplined of mind. The power we create around and within our own realities is strong; and, when we are aware of this power, it is transformational. Transformational because we understand that we have the power to shift a mind set, nay, to create a mind set. Similar to the power of the characters mind set in this story. Awareness is key to this transformation, I think.

    As always a joy to read. Thank you for sharing this awesome story with us, La Donna. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. LaDonna, very interesting post. Of course, he could be a member of The Walking Dead. I do like the doctor’s solution, although it did lead to a cognitive dissonance in said Zombie man. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your posts are always thought provoking and ever so relevant. I believe story is our best tool for social change. Instead of challenging the reader it invites them in, maybe allows them to try on a new perspective from the safety of a character, or situation not normally encountered. Hope all is well with you. 💕C

    Liked by 1 person

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