I believe in the possibility of total fulfilment. I believe in the possibility of change. I believe in redemption. I believe in new chapters. I believe in the usefulness of experience. I believe in compassion. I believe in contact. I believe in love. I believe in light. I believe in truth.
I believe in the possibility of total self-destruction. I believe in the possibility of stagnation. I believe in the abyss. I believe in fear. I believe in negativity. I believe in anger. I believe in the uselessness of experience. I believe in delusion. I believe in denial. I believe in the paralysis of self-absorption.
Convictions. We all have them. The things we believe to be true. Or the things we want to be true. Or the things we are afraid are true. Or the things we wish weren’t true. But what is our relationship with them?
Once you have them, is it possible to prevent them impacting on every aspect of your life? Or can there be a shortfall between belief and action? I think yes, absolutely there can. Isn’t that where the dread morass of ambivalence and prevarication is to be found? Where your integrity occasionally retreats. Where your backbone temporarily absconds. Maybe it’s just a conviction testing site. It’s where your convictions are seat-belted like crash test dummies and rammed into brick walls. Obviously useful but instantly indicative of a conviction that doesn’t have your full endorsement. A good conviction is surely one that needs no testing.
It would perhaps be useful at this point to try and make more concrete what we believe a conviction to be because when I look at the previous sentence that definition could easily describe a belief that is no more than dogma. If a conviction is dogma it is merely a weapon designed to protect a belief and to punish those who don’t share it. I like to think a conviction is a more malleable thing. Not malleable in the sense that it can be manipulated or shaped but more in the sense that is a flexible, organic thing that is capable of evolution. A positive conviction is more akin to a leaning, an inclination towards moral growth, not, I hope, something hard and fast.
If my interpretation is vague then so be it. My basic premise is that there is a conviction that is self-taught, self-learned, integral and natural that is opposed to those convictions which are administered like so much bitter (or saccharine) medicine. A conviction should be something that can be carried easily and discreetly, not a mantra that needs shouting from a rooftop or soap box or indeed, by a ballot box. And if it is something essential and organic then it is very much a part of you and as you negotiate the trials and tribulations of life then your convictions will respond to and echo your experiences. They will possibly be core certainties and beliefs that you never feel the need to question until the day somebody else tries to convince you of something else. But by what means are you convinced of anything?
Ask yourself the question. Is a conviction something I think or something I feel?
In the USA at the moment, political campaigns are raging to decide which opposing candidates will run in the next presidential election. Soundbites are flooding the airwaves, the internet and print media; TV screens are overrun with the toothy maws of coiffured and polished gargoyles of insincerity spouting their ‘convictions’. But who really believes them? Not the politicians themselves – they’re just selling conviction, they’re not living it. Not the electorate. And yet, through sheer perseverance, something gets through. The phrase ‘winning hearts and minds’ is most typically used in the context of wars and conflicts where an ideological charm offensive is waged on the enemy in order to suppress them using a method less crude than aerial bombardment. But surely that is the same tactic now habitually used by politicians throughout the world.
Why else would there be such a thing as a spin doctor? Everything is manipulation of the message. Subversions, diversions, tangents, denials, retractions and repetitions, tautologies and eulogies, biography, pornography and demography, all is distraction and refraction. Rhetoric that is designed to relentlessly pummel every layer of your conscious until you wave a white flag and shout “Enough already! I believe you! I’ll vote! Just please, please, stop talking! Stop lying through those shiny teeth, with those glazed eyes!” The torrents of non-truth and non-conviction overwhelm and inundate and saturate so you can no longer tell freshwater from salt, or rain from piss. Do you have anything at your disposal to withstand the deluge?
You do. You must. Your own convictions. And they are your own. You need no one’s permission to hold them. You are your own moral authority. A conviction that needs the backing of another party is hardly a conviction at all. It is a slogan. A message. Take ownership of what you believe. Know what that is. And know what it is not.
A conviction is not a weapon with which to threaten or admonish or scare. It is an aid. It is a tool. It is something useful and indispensable. It is the paddle that allows you to go upstream, to negotiate the currents and the rapids. It is the technique with which you wield the paddle. It is knowing when to pull, when to turn, when to twist and when to be slack. Your conviction is more like an undercurrent. It is unseen progress. Unseen power. And yet it is felt. It is very much there. And it is potentially dangerous. Real conviction is about action. It is about commitment without hesitation. It is the source of the lurch in the gut of others when your unswerving advance cannot be denied.
And of course that can be a good or a bad thing. As I have tried to illustrate with my non-exhaustive lists at the top of the post, conviction is not restricted to one single aspect of what we perceive and experience. It is myriad dichotomies. It is being alive to the unending contradictions of existence and exposure to life and human endeavour. None of us is a single thing. A single idea. A single symbol. Why then would we adhere to a rigid belief system? A set-out methodology for living? A blueprint for happiness or success? An irrefutable ideology? We adapt or we perish. Living in a vacuum of certainty is not living. It is a death sentence. It is being convicted of the crime of intellectual and moral surrender. Offer up your heart to experience. Desire the varied heartbeat, abhor a pulse that is a mere metronome.
Yet again, a conviction is not a weapon. It is not an arrow to pierce the heart of your enemies. It is not a missile to destroy their foundations. It is for you and for you alone. It is your game-plan. It is your practice. It is tactic for playing the game. It is serve and volley, it doesn’t have to be an ace. It doesn’t have to be a smash. And often, what is most impressive, is the resourcefulness that comes from simply backing yourself that results in the unexpected. Unexpected by everyone, except you. That is conviction. And the people who demonstrate this, who live this, are often those who change our convictions about what is possible. (People like Roger Federer? A lovely piece on the tennis master here.)
A conviction is not a weapon. It is only a weapon if you believe you’re at war. Don’t fall for the rhetoric. A conviction? It is only what you are certain of at this moment. What else do you need?
What do you live your life by? Have your guidelines shifted? Hitting the courts much?