Top 6 Most Harmful Beliefs

I have previously written about how irrational beliefs can be harmful and also how they can be difficult to change due to some systemic and psychological obstacles. But beliefs can change and believing they cannot change can cause us to stop talking honestly about our beliefs, creating polarization and making progress more difficult. With that in mind, here I am sharing my top 6 harmful beliefs plus a brief explanation of why they are so dangerous in my eyes. Hopefully, these thoughts will provoke further reflection.

6. That people cannot change

That this belief is dangerous is what I learned from the work Carol Dweck and her colleagues built up over several decades. First, their research showed that believing that intelligence cannot change (this is called a fixed mindset) makes individuals risk averse and can undermine learning, perseverance and collaboration. Later research also showed negative effects of a fixed mindset with regard to many other traits such as personality, emotions and beliefs. The fixed mindset can lead to a lack of hope and motivation for personal growth and can contribute to a lack of innovation and progress in society. 

Alternative Belief: That people can change and grow. While we cannot change everything about ourselves, most abilities, beliefs and traits can change. Once we realize that, we can see ourselves as a work in progress and start a learning curve that can be fun and rewarding. 

5. That objective truth does not exist 

While the belief that all claims about reality are equally true sounds egalitarian and permissive (“We all have our own truths”), I think it is very harmful. While there may be many situations where it is not so important who is right or wrong, there are also many situations where it is very important to know who is right and who is wrong. It is often necessary to make policy and make decisions. Whenever we face opposing opinions about what policy to choose or what decision to make, we need a principle or mechanism to help us do this. 
Without a belief in the existence of discoverable truth, we are at the mercy of authoritarianism or the law of the jungle. This can manifest itself in the form of ideological dogmas or religious doctrines. When reason and evidence are not available to determine which claims are true, we can only fall back on force-based power as a mechanism to settle disagreements. 
The rise of Donald Trump can probably be partly explained by a disbelief in the existence of truth. Which is true doesn't seem to matter much to Trump and many of his followers. What, on the other hand, only seems to be important is strength and loyalty to power. The rise of Donald Trump can probably be partly explained by a disbelief in the existence of truth. Which is true doesn't seem to matter much to Trump and many of his followers. What, on the other hand, only seems to be important is strength and loyalty to power. The rise of Donald Trump can probably be partly explained by a disbelief in the existence of truth. Which is true doesn't seem to matter much to Trump and many of his followers. What, on the other hand, only seems to be important is strength and loyalty to power. 

Alternative Belief: That some statements are objectively truer than others.While we will probably never be able to discover unshakable truths, we can distinguish between statements that are more false and those that are more true (less false, if you will). Perhaps the greatest human invention is the process by which we can do this, called science. This process itself is by no means perfect and therefore a work in progress. But science, as it is, is more reliable than any other process for finding out how true certain claims are. And science is not reserved for a small elite. Even when we lack detailed knowledge of the scientific process, we can still use certain scientific ways of thinking when judging claims (see here). 

4. That dishonesty is part of commerce 

Research has shown that many people think that in a commercial function it is permissible and even good to mislead people. Because of this belief, which is quite widespread, we often don't even expect sellers to be honest. Organizations often deliberately hire people for commercial positions who are good at misleading people. Former US President Donald Trump is a good example of someone who holds this belief. When faced with accusations of immoral behavior, he sometimes defends himself by saying that he did these things as a businessman. This mindset assumes that not paying taxes, not paying bills and misleading customers are examples of good business practice. It is the mentality of: any money is good money. The extent to which this mindset has spread in the business world is alarming. Just one major example of how this mindset wreaks havoc is the pharmaceutical industry (see here and here). 

Alternative Belief: That business and morality should go hand in hand. Making money does not justify harming individuals and society. Moral conduct does not preclude earning money. 

3. That we are rewarded or punished after we die 

This is perhaps the ultimate example of irrational punish-and-reward thinking. Throughout history, people who have been led to believe this idea have been vulnerable to manipulation by religious leaders. Who can make you believe that you must behave according to a list of rules (which he/she claims to know must be followed) so that you can be rewarded after you die or so that you can avoid punishment after you die, you can do horrible things. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” The most striking contemporary example of what this belief can lead to is the perpetration of religiously inspired attacks. 

Alternative belief: That in this only life we ​​have we should focus on what we want to mean to ourselves and others. While there are some psychological reasons that can make us vulnerable to this belief, it is irrational, even to the extent that it cannot be true . By definition, it is difficult to imagine that your conscious experience will ever completely disappear. But this might get a little easier when we realize that it wasn't there before we were born either. Freeing ourselves from this dangerous belief makes us less vulnerable to manipulative religious leaders and makes it easier to appreciate the only life we ​​have

2. That evil must be fought with evil 

This belief can be found on a micro and a macro level. For example, I recently read an email exchange between two teachers. Teacher A asked, “How can we punish students for missing lessons?” Teacher B responded: “Our role is to help them learn, not to punish them.” I sympathize with teacher B. Creating a setting of punishment and reward in education is not a good idea as research into the self-determination theory has shown. On a macro level, this belief is reflected in the rhetoric of Donald Trump, among other things.He legitimizes bad behavior by pointing to bad behavior of other parties. The belief that evil must be fought with evil, I think, undermines the motivation of the other party, damages the relationship with the other party, and damages our own morality. 

Alternative Belief: That we should be committed to progress while maintaining our morality. It is important to keep fighting for progression and this may mean standing up to harmful or dangerous behavior. While this can be difficult and can lead to an asymmetrical battle, we must do our utmost to fight this battle without compromising our moral standards. 

1. That we should pursue our self-interest at the expense of others 

The D Factor, also known as the Dark Factor of Personality (D), is the following deep-seated belief held by some individuals: in the world we live in, it is justified and necessary to promote one's self-interest at the expense of the interests of others. others.” This D-factor turns out to be a common factor underlying all sorts of negative traits (read more). It seems that this belief underlies just about everything we call human wickedness. 

Alternative Belief: That we should pursue the interests of others in addition to our self-interest. This conviction to also take into account the interests of others can contribute to more harmony, empathy and understanding in groups, families and organizations. This can lead to higher connectedness, motivation and productivity, and a more just and peaceful society.


Published on: 21 Oct 2016, Update: 10-04-2023