Thinking about Beliefs
Or, “fears attached to rules”.
In this blog post, I will attempt to share some of my current thoughts and related ideas on “Belief Systems”.
The subject of Belief Systems is not small or unexplored. For many years, many people have offered many opinions about them. And I have only relatively recently begun to research belief systems, and consider my own. I’m trying to gain a deeper and better understanding of what I believe, why I believe it, and the ramifications of those beliefs.
Thus far, here are a few of my current thoughts on Belief Systems:
Some belief systems are built upon some fundamental, sensible ideas
These fundamental, sensible ideas can help define the core concepts of a belief system
These core concepts, are open to interpretation (subjective explanations of meaning)
These interpretations can help define the implementations of the core concepts
The implementations of some core concepts sometimes involve many ceremonies (rituals, stipulations, caveats, rules, etc.)
Sometimes, the ceremonies can obfuscate or obscure the core concepts
Sometimes, these ceremonies are driven by agendas that are not in harmony with the core concepts
Sometimes, these agendas originate from “false prophets”, that might not (willingly or otherwise) understand or value the core concepts
Sometimes, some adopters and adherents of a belief system are fanatically so
Sometimes, actual or perceived originators of a belief system are held in unreasonably high regard
Sometimes, the adherents of a belief system focus more on the ceremonies and originators of a belief system than the fundamental, sensible ideas or core concepts
Sometimes, attempting to examine (analyze, question, challenge), or change a belief system can be difficult and painful
Sometimes, examining or changing a belief system can result in unwanted consequences
Sometimes, examining or changing a belief system can be revealing and beneficial
I have personal, professional, religious, political, moral belief systems, and more. And for each, the thoughts above provoke me to ask myself the questions below (among others):
Are there fundamental ideas on which my belief system is built? If so, what are they? Are these ideas sensible? How do these ideas help define the core concepts of my belief system? How do I interpret these core concepts? Do my interpretations of the core concepts influence my implementation of them? Do my implementations involve ceremony? Do the ceremonies confuse or conceal the core concepts on which my belief system is built? Are there agendas that drive these ceremonies? If so, what are they? Am I unreasonably devoted to the belief system? Is the degree to which I regard proponents of the belief systems reasonable? Is my focus on the ceremonies and/or originators of the belief system, or the fundamental, sensible ideas and core concepts of it? How do I react if my belief system is questioned? Am I willing and able to change my system of beliefs? What benefits or harm might come from changing my belief system?
Sometimes, answering these questions leads me back to where I started. That is, I discover that some things I believe are, in fact, sound. However, sometimes, answering these questions leads me far from where I began, as I learn that the things I believe are not actually reasonable. And while learning this can be very beneficial, it can also be very painful.
Regardless, I think that considering these types of questions is important and always provides much me with a much deeper and better understanding of what I believe which affects everything that I think, say, and do.
Several years ago, I examined some of my belief systems. Part of one belief system that I examined was my professional belief system. Specifically, I asked myself the questions above and examined the things I believed to be true with regards to software testing.
The process was extremely difficult. In retrospect, I now realize that the difficulty was partly because my belief system regarding software testing was flawed. The process of examining my deeply held beliefs and recognizing that they were “no so” was painful. It wasn’t fun to discover that my deeply held beliefs were not sensible. Conversely, had I discovered that my belief system regarding software testing been sound, the process may not have been so painful.
Regardless, in the end, I discovered that many of the things I believed to be true regarding software testing were, in fact, unreasonable. And there were actually more reasonable “truths” available.
For example, I used to believe that “a bug is (objectively) a bug”. This belief had many ramifications to the things I thought, said, and did. However, upon examination I discovered that this belief was not founded on any sensible, fundamental ideas. In time, I discovered a sensible, fundamental idea in relativism (basically, that knowledge is relative to context, rather than absolute). This new (to me) sensible, fundamental idea helped me form new core concepts and change my beliefs about bugs. Building on the sensible, fundamental idea of relativism, I now believe that “a bug is subjective as it describes the relationship between someone and something at some time”.
Although the process of examining my beliefs was and is extremely difficult, and the results sometimes disconcerting, I think that the process is ultimately extremely valuable.
And so, I encourage you, dear reader, to strap yourself in for a potentially bumpy ride and examine, analyze, question, and challenge your systems of beliefs.
Special thanks to Rajesh Mathur, James Irving, Patrick Prill, and Jeff Nyman for contributing and/or reviewing this post.
UPDATE [February 7, 2019]
Dave Nicolette extends, adds to, and applies these ideas wonderfully in his blog post: Scrum as a Belief System. Check it out!