A Sensible Spiritual Viewpoint to Seriously Consider
William Cottringer, Ph.D.

A viewpoint is the convenient way the brain efficiently gathers all the various thoughts and feelings we get from our experiences in life and from interacting with other people, that cumulatively make up our bigger attitudes and beliefs. This is an extremely complicated process of several on-going interactions between thinking, feeling, behavior, learning, genetics, and experiences. At times it is difficult to decipher which one causes which or which one is being influenced by the other. But like every event in life, any given situation is already in play before we join in on the fun. All we are is one of many other influences in what happens.

The strength of which we feel our beliefs to be true and attitudes being right, is what drives our behavior in response to the things we experience in life. Then, in turn, these similar or new experiences we have, work together to reshape our beliefs and attitudes that reinforce existing behavior or produce different behavior. A spiritual viewpoint is a paramount collection of beliefs and truths that help us make reasonable sense out of everything.

The sensibility of this spiritual viewpoint is founded in neuroscience. Our brains have one common purpose, which is to seek well-being and avoid harm. As such our brains are not essentially hard-wired to find the truth, especially if it is harmful to us! On the contrary, the brain uses the balancing principle of homeostasis to identify things that suffice in sounding like they might be true, just needing more experience for verification. So, the challenge in developing a sensible spiritual viewpoint is to land on the few reasonable a priori assumptions about reality, human nature, and our dualistic world of opposites. Below are three such assumptions that collectively interact to form our spiritual viewpoint, that are at least worth considering.

Dealing with Reality

Whether or not reality exists apart from our own conscious perception of it, is a perpetual debate. A popular conclusion is that reality is what it is and to be successful we must see it as it really is. However, it seems as though there is a slim chance that some successes and failures in changing the universally undesirable realities can happen when we increase our mindful awareness of all the most important influences in a situation and of course, when we are in sync with the right timing. In an earlier book, Reality Repair, I maintained that it wasn’t reality that needed repairing, but rather our faulty and incomplete perceptions of it. As it turns out, I was only mostly right.

Then enters the caveat of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle from quantum physics, which proves the universe is basically potential, with a perpetual creation and destruction process of nothing into something back into nothing, ad infinitum. This opens the door to an evolving reality, including any concept of a higher power, that can be changed by our consciousness, at least if it is focused on the right things in any given situation. For instance, if one of our beliefs isn’t resulting in the sense of well-being we thought it would bring, then we can look for new information that leads us to a different belief. And if we don’t fancy an all-powerful God creating evil, we can believe that granting us the power of free will, puts the burden on us in giving us the choice.

Now here comes the big choice that is a very big part of any spiritual viewpoint. This is the choice to be optimistic or pessimistic or somewhere in between. This choice involves the degree to which we trust people and life, have a positive attitude towards things, and are hopeful for good outcomes in the things we are doing, always thinking of a better tomorrow during adversity. The smartest people seem to migrate towards a realistic viewpoint but lean in the direction of optimism. The happiness guru, Martin Seligman, found that optimistic people gained several important benefits over their pessimistic counterparts. These benefits included having more happiness, making more money, having fewer physical symptoms, living longer and being in more enjoyable relationships.

Human Nature

Understanding human nature is a real challenge, because our main way to do this is through introspection. But this can only give us a small understanding of what drives us, and this is not always the same with other people. While it is true that we do have much in common with each other, there are many individual differences in people’s thinking and information processing styles, values, motivations, stress thresholds, learning, and personalities. At the end of the day, we are forced to make some sensible assumptions about human nature and modify them as we go.

An important question that my graduate counseling program panel asked me in the selection interview was this one: Do you think people are born basically good, bad, or neutral? I wasn’t prepared for this question but somehow my brain kicked in on autopilot and I quickly came up with the right answer to get accepted into the program. What I said was: “My religious upbringing would say that people are born into sin and must have help to get going on the right path. My family influences would have me believe we are all basically good people who just need some encouragement to stay that way. However, now wanting to be a psychologist, I think it is better to assume people are born neutral and can be influenced to become good or bad depending on what happens to them and how they respond. I hope to be a positive influence with people who need that.”

Interacting with other people is how most people usually spend most of their time and communication is the common way we do this. So, effective communication has to be tied to the correct reality of human nature. This involves conveying the qualities that reflect the way we all want to be treated, including freedom, tentativeness, acceptance, empathy, equality, and spontaneity. On the other hand, the opposite qualities—control, certainty, judgement, insensitivity, superiority, and manipulation—almost always produce defensiveness, which effectively shuts down communication.

The Negativity Bias

In his latest book, Be Useful, Arnold Schwarzenegger, body builder, movie star, politician, and now motivational guru, writes about the negativity bias being a major problem in today’s world. The negativity bias is our tendency of focusing so much time and energy onto negative events and worrying excessively about negative outcomes in all we are doing. This negativity bias is carried over from the earlier caveman days with our roles in hunting and gathering. It served the important purpose of surviving danger and adversity in the world outside the safety of the caves.

But today, many people have succeeded in the survival mode and are now striving to thrive. This is where negativity doesn’t need to be our prevalent viewpoint but rather using optimism and being positive and hopeful, discussed above, as the gateway to thriving. The main way of learning how to avoid being held hostage by the negativity bias is to practice switching gears by first “catching yourself with your own hand in the cookie jar” thinking negatively and tell yourself it doesn’t have to be that way.

We all may have a difficult path away from negativity, at least before we learn to dismiss the plethora of negativity put out by the mainstream and social media. But at least it is a start! Escape from the prison of negativity! Do this by realizing that negative events are not personal, pervasive. or permanent. A positive response to the next negative situation that occurs, is always an opportunity to take advantage of, and that opportunity won’t ever desist. The choice of viewpoints has always been yours. The only outcome to worry about is whether your viewpoint if getting you closer or further from where you really want to be. That is something only you will know for sure.

Let me end this article with a brief discussion one of the most important dualisms related to developing a spiritual viewpoint. In keeping with the negativity bias, psychology started with a primary emphasis on pathology and mental illness, or the dark side of life. The positive side of this coin being wellness and the positive psychology movement that brought it, just appeared on the horizon a few decades ago and is still gaining momentum. A big part of this movement involves a paradigm shift away from a competitive win-lose mentality to one of a win-win cooperation one. So, the hero in Darwin’s survival of the fittest doctrine is now the cooperation gene, replacing the selfish gene.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is retired Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, but still practices sport psychology, business success coaching, photography, and writing, living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Because Organization, an intervention program in human trafficking. Bill is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Critical Thinking (Authorsden); Thoughts on Happiness, Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.). Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away and Christian Psychology for Everyday Use (Covenant Books, Inc.). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (206)-914-1863 or ckuretdoc.comcast.net.