Monday, October 13, 2014

The Will to Believe

Dr Dre
William James’ central argument in “The Will to Believe” hinges on the idea that, for certain beliefs, truth or at least our access to the evidence of their truth, depends crucially upon our first adopting those beliefs without sufficient evidence. For example, sometimes it is only through first believing upon insufficient evidence that we will be able to accomplish some hard task that we actually become capable of accomplishing that hard task.

In virtue of this dependency of truth on belief, James argues that it can be rational for us to have faith in our own ability to accomplish tasks that require confidence even if at the time we lack sufficient evidence for whether we truly possess that ability. I have found this to be true for me because although I was not able to pursue seminary studies after graduation from Holy Cross College or to engage in youth counseling early in my career the call to do so and a belief that I would one day do so has remained important to me throughout my life (Kasser and Shah, 2006)." [1]

William James said… “If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.” [2]

However, as it turned out, it is only recently that I began to “systematically and earnestly, every day”, for the last three years, to actively increase my knowledge in related areas, make time to develop my own spiritual practices, and to doggedly seek opportunities where I might become directly involved in helping others to further their personal development. 

When describing the “Methods of Training of The Will”, Roberto Assagioli, M.D. emphasizes the importance of “preparation”.

To ensure success, it is of paramount importance that a proper preparation be made to create the initial urge and impetus; this preparation should arose a lively, fervid and even passionate desire to develop the will, leading to the firm decision to do all that is necessary for attaining that end." [3]

Back in the summer of 2009, as a volunteer with Immanuel Bible Church of Howell, New Jersey, I traveled to Camden, New Jersey where I would spend one week at KIDS ALLEY.  Kids Alley is the main program of One Accord Inc., a nonprofit faith-based organization that reaches out to inner-city children and their families with weekly programs.  Participating youth live in the city of Camden, New Jersey, considered the most violent and impoverished city in the United States.  Sixty-five (65%) percent of its population consists of at-risk children.  Kids Alley has been boldly reaching out to the children in Camden every since 1998 with a mission, a vision, and a promise to help others in building a much brighter future.

Kids Alley started our with a Saturday morning program, focusing on children ages 3-12 and their families.  Their Saturday morning program in which I served as a volunteer is a FUN filled, highly energized atmosphere consisting of a unique and creative blend of games, music, drama, puppetry, Bible lessons, creative and technical arts, and contemplation and prayer.  The program embraces the children with love and empowers them with practical teaching for victorious daily living.  The Kids Alley program aims to ensure that all its children actively participate and that every child feels like a winner.  At the end of the program, each child also leaves daily with a nutritious bagged lunch.

This Kids Alley ministry focuses on key Biblical principles and is the emphasis in everything that takes place.  Along with between twenty to thirty adolescent youth and a number of parents from three different churches, together we converged on Kids Alley to help successfully run the 2009 summer program for one of the two weeks that the program is offered.  For me, it turned out to be a life-changing experience.

The activities that I became involved with ranged from indoor and outdoor arts, crafts, recreational games and sports, formal classroom instruction, and personally assisting individual kids who were experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties during program hours.  I tremendously enjoyed all aspects of the program and I received high praise from Pastor Vivian Tan, Founder and Director of Kids Alley for my overall contribution to the program, assistance in supporting the efforts of the young volunteers, and in helping to ensure each kids overall enjoyment.  This experience served as an affirmation for me that this is where I am best able to have a positive impact on the lives of others.  Whatever good that I was able to offer I believe came out of my ability to return to the unpleasant experiences of having been an abused, angry, disadvantaged, self-conscious and single-parented child myself.  A few of the kids participating in the program with a prior history of being difficult to manage and with whom I spent extra time went on to have a very good school year, became noticeably more well-mannered, and kinder towards others and more self-confident themselves during their continuing participation in the Kids Alley Saturday morning program throughout the following school year.

According to Assagiolo, founder of the psychological movement known as psychosynthesis, any act of will actually takes place through six clear stages:
  1. investigation (finding out what it is we wish to do);
  2. deliberation (considering all the different things we wish to do at any time and selecting the acts most relevant to our current situation);
  3. decision (deciding upon the one act that is most important to us at the present time, and clearly formulating and stating this desire);
  4. affirmation (staying connected to this decision through constantly re-affirming that this choice is what we really desire to achieve);
  5. plan (thinking about the different ways we can actually make whatever it is happen);
  6. execution (doing it, finding ways of carrying out the intended plan, either in entirety or step-by-step.)

Every choice we make involves these six stages to a greater or lesser degree. It might be that for a particular choice we know what we want, hardly have to deliberate over it at all, and are able to quickly plan and execute the action necessary to succeed. For example, our choice to go to a nearby shop to purchase something we need. On the other hand, we might not really know what we want, and we might endlessly deliberate over the choices and never actually decide what to do. Then again, we might know exactly what we want and yet not know how to go about planning and executing the necessary actions. Our desire could be something well worked out, but for which the execution needs to take place at a particular time.  If we choose to view a sunset, we will only be able to make it happen at the right time of day.

While our acts of will always include all six stages, they rarely do so in a linear fashion. For instance, while planning we may need to go back and deliberate even further when we may also discover that we have not quite got the choice right.  Often we need to keep going back to our choice to keep affirming it, over, and over. Constantly returning to the affirmation stage to focus on and strengthen our choices is usually a good technique because it reinforces the planning and execution of our desire.

We also have to consider that every choice we make affects everything and everyone else.  For example, if I choose to eat a particular piece of fruit right now, you will never be able to eat it either now or at any other time. That may not seem so serious – after all, there is usually plenty of fruit to be found elsewhere.  In other circumstances, however, such knowledge takes on much more significance. Someone may choose to ignore the knowledge that lead-free gasoline is better for the environment.  That they continue buying leaded gasoline seems to make no difference, because what difference can one person actually make? Yet in reality, the situation will continue worsening over time if we all maintain this outlook.

We must make our choices clearly and with heart, and be aware of this global effect, yet we must not allow such knowledge to make us impotent. Rather we must try to align ourselves with the flow of nature so that our choices add to rather than subtract from the evolution of consciousness and [the sustainability of] our planet. [4]

Following my volunteer experience in Camden, New Jersey, I became exceedingly curious about how to expand on the program content provided to the Camden kids from an interreligious and intercultural perspective.  To me, it seemed as though there was still an important element missing from the worldview being taught at Kids Alley from the standpoint of accepting, celebrating and embracing diversity.  I see this as an essential measurement of the humanity, humility and commitment to religious pluralism and tolerance often needed today especially in light of the demographics, socio-economic makeup of the city, and the extent of gang violence that continues to prevail there amongst the youth. For example, Pastor Vivian regularly shared stories with the volunteers about the number of children whose funerals she had to sadly preside over that year.

[1] James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience - A Study in Human Nature 1902
[2] Kasser, J.,and Sha, N.  The Metaethics of Belief: An Expressivist Reading of “The Will to Believe”. Social Epistemology Vol. 20, No. 1, January–March 2006, pp. 1–17. Taylor & Francis
[4] Kasser, J. and Shah, N. (2006). The Metaethics of Belief: An Expressivist Reading of "The Will to Believe". Social Epistemology Vol. 20, No. 1, January-March, pp. 1-17. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.