Beliefs in Different Sizes

Everyone you meet in this life comes endowed with beliefs. Their beliefs will be different from yours, and, together, you’ll have to figure out where you can find common ground — if any — if you are to be friends, business partners, lovers, or even members of the same family.

My dad believes reality TV is relaxing. I believe everyone should write, even if no one ever reads it. My friend believes Xiaomi’s phones are better than Apple’s. Neither of us would agree with either belief of the other two, and yet, we all know each other and get along just fine. That’s because beliefs come in different sizes.

Some beliefs are as small as a talisman. No larger than a dime, they easily fit into your pocket. You can carry them anywhere, but you might also lose them as quickly as you picked them up. If you’re a chocolate aficionado, for example, your favorite flavor might change whenever you taste new product samples.

Other beliefs are the size of a little package. You can still take them around, but they’re not so simple to stow away. You may have to keep holding them in your hand or bring a basket made of other beliefs to carry them in. “German cars are the best” reveals more about you than just your preference for BMWs — that you value efficiency and precision, perhaps — and while valid, you might not want to bring this belief into a General Motors dealership.

Then, we also hold beliefs that can only fit in a suitcase. They’re bulky but important to us, so we lug them around, even if, sometimes, their weight takes a toll on us. How many people have dragged “a six-figure salary is essential to happiness” behind them for years, only to realize it won’t change all that much when they finally achieve it?

Finally, some beliefs are so large, they form the very ground on which we walk. They’re foundational, and we can’t go anywhere without our foundation. If you’re raised with the idea that food you didn’t cook yourself is not worth eating, that will empower you in the kitchen for decades to come, but it will also cause endless friction whenever your partner wants to order takeout or your boss sets up a team dinner.

Just as with physical objects, larger beliefs are more likely to clash, and when different-sized beliefs meet, usually, there’s a clear winner. Whether you consider it a steamrolling or a smart steering-around-each-other, this dynamic makes for smoother social interactions.

My dad’s reality-TV-belief is a package-one. When he turns on the latest fake family drama, I can start arguing about its benefits, or I can simply leave the room. My friend can easily agree that anyone would benefit from daily writing without taking up the habit himself. He cares less about my foundational belief than I do, and so the conversation just moves on. If you’ve ever shared a meal with a vegetarian despite being a meat-eater (or vice versa), you know that it’s easy to make room for other people’s beliefs where you haven’t yet brought any large luggage of your own.

Of course, you’re also familiar with the opposite: arguing fiercely with someone else about a matter of the heart, perhaps even while a group of bystanders looked on in disbelief. “How can these two care so much about which color we pick for our jerseys?” But if no one else brought a package-belief to the meeting, that’s how it goes.

What’s less obvious about all of this is that while beliefs come in different sizes, we’re the ones who pick how large we’d like them to be — and we can grow and shrink them according to the demands of each new situation.

My friend dislikes Apple products with a luggage-sized passion, and if I blew just a little more air into my package-belief into the company, we could argue about the best tech for hours. But I don’t. If anything, I shrink it. “A phone is just a phone, let everyone use the one that they like best.” I resize my belief for the situation and get out of the way.

Whether you minimize or expand your belief in order to get along with others often doesn’t matter. Both largeness and smallness can lead to magnanimity. Whether someone agrees or disagrees with my “everyone should write” idea, I know in my heart that it’s true — but that doesn’t make it my job to go on a crusade until every person on earth actually does it.

Your favorite kind of chocolate can be the flavor of the week, or it can be a singular, lifelong dedication to peppermint, fiercely defended at every turn. What will you do when “German cars are the best” lands you in a shitty Audi SUV that fails to meet any of your expectations? Will you double down or reconsider your belief? That six-figure salary aspiration may have been a heavy suitcase to carry for a few years, but once it no longer has a purpose, you can shrink it into a talisman any day. And even if you’ll forever cook every meal at home, perhaps at a potluck dinner, you might try someone else’s food — if only to see what other people come up with as a consequence of holding the same foundational belief as you do.

Everyone you meet comes endowed with beliefs, and so wherever you go in this life, you, too, will venture there with beliefs as your baggage. So every morning, as you leave the house and meet the world, ask yourself: Will bringing this idea be worthwhile?

Don’t be afraid to adjust your values to make room for others, and remember that any attitude has only as much power over you as you’re allowing it to have. Listen to life, and size your beliefs accordingly — that way, you’ll always travel with just the right luggage for your intended destination.