Our ability to respond effectively to life’s challenges has a great deal to do with our beliefs

Gerry ChidiacFor many of us, January first is a good time to reassess our progress in life and set goals for the year ahead. Looking back, we see that some things have gone very well while others have not. Challenges are inevitable but learning to respond effectively to those challenges is the key to a happy and successful life.

Our ability to respond effectively has a great deal to do with what we believe. Our beliefs reflect how we view the world and often become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we believe that our boss is out to get us, we assess events in our workplace through that lens and gather evidence to “prove” that we are right. Our employer may or may not be out to get us, but our preconceived notion makes it difficult to fully understand the situation and, therefore, difficult to respond effectively.

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The challenge, then, is to learn to become mindful of our beliefs and thus be able to distinguish whether they are helping us get where we want to in life or if they are holding us back from achieving our potential. There are many mindfulness practices we can learn to use to assist in our personal development.

What if we took this sort of mindful approach to how our world is governed? Do our beliefs promote our well-being, or are they leading to our demise?

Most Canadians, for example, believe that publicly funded health care is a good thing. Since it was implemented 60 years ago, we have seen life expectancies increase and infant mortality decline. The system has flaws, but Canadians seem determined to make sure that it continues improving.

Other beliefs don’t seem to be serving us so well. In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher told us we needed less government regulation and more unrestricted free enterprise. In other words, we needed to embrace neoliberalism. Countries worldwide, including Canada, adopted this system of belief.

Looking back over the last 40 years, we see the result. Big business has not saved us. On the contrary, our governments have bailed out and subsidized large corporations, putting tremendous strain on ordinary taxpayers. The rich, who proportionately pay very little tax, have become much richer, while our schools, hospitals, and other infrastructures are underfunded. Over the last year, neoliberalism has made life even more difficult for ordinary citizens.

Many believe that other economic theories will be more effective than neoliberalism. Fortunately, we can see from history the theories that serve us and those that do not. The period following the Second World War saw very effective use of government spending, resulting in tremendous increases in the standard of living throughout western Europe and North America. These are the ideas that can be perfected and expanded globally.

Other common beliefs are simply wishful thinking. Many Canadians assume that we are highly esteemed internationally. In much of the global south, however, we are viewed as a lackey of the imperialistic United States.

This has not always been the case, however. When Joe Clark was Secretary of State under Brian Mulroney, Canada was a respected world leader in human rights. In truth, it is difficult to come up with an example of a Canadian Prime Minister displaying higher ideals on the international scene since Jean Chretien refused to join the disastrous American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In essence, the beliefs that serve us best as a country are the same as those that serve us best as individuals. If we display integrity and care for our neighbour, if we put away our selfish interests and sincerely try to create win-win scenarios, we will be successful. Of course, all of this requires hard work, courage, and the humility to correct our mistakes.

May 2023 be a successful year for Canada and for all Canadians.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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