Updated on 06.15.11

Living What You Believe

Trent Hamm

Every day, I get ten or fifteen emails from people who strongly believe in some particular issue or perspective. I hear from extreme political liberals and extreme political conservatives. I hear from devout literal Christians and outspoken atheists. I hear from people who live almost entirely off the grid and from others who are incredibly consumer-oriented.

The amazing part is that I hear a variation on the same story from all of these people. In each case, I hear from that person because they (or, on occasion, someone they care deeply about) have lost touch on some level with the values that they claim to hold dear.

Often, they’re upset about something in the world. Some are upset at environmental destruction. Others are upset about government spending. Still others are upset about the moral degradation of society. This isn’t in itself a problem, of course. It’s often very valuable to have something you care deeply about.

At the same time, I’ll see in these emails that they’re taking individual actions to make the very problem they claim to detest worse. They’re spending money on consumer goods that, during their production, damage the environment. They’re not actively involved in the political process in a non-financial basis. They’re full of anger at the moral degradation they see and spread that anger around in various ways.

Even more painful, from my perspective, is when these contradictions are costing them money. The consumer goods cost money. Being angry adds to your stress and makes you ill, costing you money. Donating money to candidates that don’t actually support your beliefs costs you money.

In almost every case, you can live a better life and save money if you live in accordance with what you value.

If you care about the environment, stop buying consumer products or at least minimize those purchases. Plant a garden. Learn how to cook at home. Spend your spare time promoting environmental causes.

If you are concerned about politics, stop giving your money to candidates until they prove themselves. When you do support candidates, support them with your feet and your time and not your wallet. Knock on doors. Send letters. Get involved at a local level.

If you worry about the morality of others, don’t spend your time worrying about others and telling them how to live. Show them how to live with every second of your life. Live every moment in a way that reflects your morals. Treat others how you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes. You’ll find a lot less stress that way, which will help with illnesses and lost income, and you’ll end up having a much more positive impact than if you spread the rage around.

If you believe in something, live your life in accordance with that belief. Don’t just try to solve problems with your words or with your wallet, and don’t make choices that contradict what you stand for. You’ll find that, time and time again, you’ll be financially better off for doing it – and you’ll be better off in a lot of other areas of your life, too.

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  1. Jason says:

    I know exactly what you mean. This past week my mother asked me to donate some money to an organization she is helping. While the organization does a lot of good, there are several things they do and support that I don’t believe in. Long story short, I explained to my mother while I loved her dearly, I couldn’t donate and explained my reasons. She understood and there were no hurt feelings.

  2. Amy says:

    This reminds me of a recent issue in my town. There was great unrest about the county’s bussing policy and possible changes to it. Many people were outraged that they may change the policy, meaning less diversity in the schools. But suddenly when it appeared that the change would be bussing THIER children into some of the poorer neighborhood schools (keeping the diversity intact) they were dead set against the policy in general and believed that neighborhood schools were the way to go. Interesting.

  3. Johanna says:

    Better yet, just don’t believe in anything! It’s much easier – right, Trent?

    This post strikes me as a rationalization for why it’s OK to disregard the opinions of anyone who doesn’t live a perfect life. The standards Trent’s holding people to are so extreme (stop buying consumer products) and so arbitrary (support political candidates this way, but not that way) that there’s going to be some way to find fault with anyone who believes in anything.

  4. Johanna says:

    And then there’s this:

    “don’t spend your time worrying about others and telling them how to live”

    in a post that’s all about Trent worrying about others and telling them how to live.

  5. Kathryn C says:

    “don’t make choices that contradict what you stand for” – totally off topic but I just had this convo with someone last night…. all these “women only” investment clubs drive me nutz for this reason, they’re contradicting what they stand for.

    We’re fighting for equality yet we discriminate against men? I have this discussion time and time again…and they tell me “It’s different.”

    They’re absolutely making “choices that contradict what (they) stand for,” because what they stand for is equality.

  6. Patsy says:

    Johanna: if you find fault with so many of Trent’s writings, why do you even read his blog? Spend your time reading other blogs and leave your rants off; they’re getting old boring!

  7. David says:

    If no one spent any time telling anyone how to live, how would anyone know that they weren’t supposed to spend any time telling anyone how to live?

  8. Well said. I think it’s so easy to talk the walk and not walk the walk. I like your reminder that being a light in the world is the way to go.

  9. Vanessa says:

    “At the same time, I’ll see in these emails that they’re taking individual actions to make the very problem they claim to detest worse.”

    A sample of one of these emails would be helpful. Since you are getting almost a dozen a day, it shouldn’t be too hard and you could leave the name out. I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you’ve said but there are so many generalities that the points made feel very abstract.

    People who act opposite of what they claim to believe: don’t’ we usually call them hypocrites?

  10. Catherine says:

    With all due respect, I think those criticising this post are missing the point.

    Of course we can’t be consistent in everything we do. In a society and economy with the complexity of ours, that would be impossible.

    What I think Trent is saying here (and I could be wrong) is that we can’t control the world and the behaviour of others. If we can let go of the need for that control we’ll be happier and more effective.

    His recommendations have much in common with some of the maxims offered by 12-step programs. While these programs aren’t perfect, they do encourage members to act in ways that further their own goals while letting go of the final outcome; and to work on themselves rather than trying to control the behaviour of others.

    If we want to be lead effective and more contented lives perhaps it’s more useful to cultivate a radical acceptance of the world as it is – an acceptance that humans are a mixture of good and evil and that they will frequently do things we consider wrong – rather than spending time and energy criticising others.

    That doesn’t mean being passive or apolitical. It does mean recognising that change begins with us.

    We can’t change the way others behave. What we can change are our own actions and reactions.

  11. tentaculistic says:

    I have to agree with Vanessa. This post didn’t really make sense to me since it was so vague. I wanted to get where Trent is going with it, since it seems like a good point, but there’s no “meat” to latch onto. I kinda see where this post is going, but it’s like one of those Chinese paintings where the mists eat up everything but a few lines of the mountain and tree.

    In my mind, I’m matching up the extremes with the points made (I have a hard time imagining they are linked up in another way) and not seeing discrepancies (people who live off the grid and believe in conservationism; Christians or atheists angry about moral degradation; extreme politically inclined spending money on campaigns).

    Maybe I’m drawing the lines between the two lists wrong, but it’s really not evident to me how these beliefs and actions are poorly linked or counterproductive. Being angry does not enhance moral degradation in the world at large (it might detract kindness or community spirit, but that’s not the same thing). Being political and spending money on that political party seems quite kosher to me – as Trent says in other posts, follow someone’s money trail and you see the outline of their real beliefs – so why this reversal to having to support core beliefs in non-monetary ways? Seems contradictory.

    I want to see where this post is going, as there seems to be a kernel of something that is resonating vaguely with me, but it’s not quite there.

  12. KenSD says:

    Trent, I really enjoyed this post as it takes up issues that bother me, also.

    We are a very polarized society now, with many people seemingly consuming at an unconscious level and not finding the fulfillment that the products promise. This extends into our common political and religious lives where we are so sure of being right that we leave no room to listen or take in facts which may contradict our opinions.

    It’s everywhere we look or listen, from TV, radio and internet commentators (with things to sell) to newspaper discussion boards and daily conversations.

    When did we become a nation of such “personal freedom” advocates that we can’t see how we are impinging on those same freedoms of others?

    I doubt that there is any hope of change, except on a strictly personal basis where I can buy differently and interact differently with other’s without concern for whether anyones notices or follows.

    I can also choose my work life differently, by making decisions about what I do to earn a living that is more congruent with who I am and how much of my life I will exchange for a paycheck. We are fortunate to have more options to earn a good living and improve our financial situation than ever before without having to give our lives over to organizations that have no concern for us except for using our skills for their profit.

    As for the political arena, I believe that our best hope for a more honest and effective representative system lies in organizations like the Sunlight Foundation, that advocate for openness by our government officials, but, I fear that it may be too late! I hope not, but, on this I am a pessimist.

  13. Jonathan says:

    “If you believe in something, live your life in accordance with that belief.”

    In my opinion this is wonderful advice. It is good to good to have a cause one believes in strongly. I also believe it is good for everyone to look at their own actions to determine if they are in accordance with their chosen cause/belief.

    Trent’s environmental example is one I often see, even in my own life. For almost any product I use daily I could likely go out and buy a replacement that would be more efficient or produced with less environmental impact. As Trent suggests,however, that may very well be hurting the cause I care about, not helping. Alternatively I could choose the use the product less or care better for it so it lasts longer and needs replaced less often. There are entire “green” industries now which are trying to convince people that they can help the environment by purchasing more consumer goods.

    I can also see examples from either my own life or others I’m close to similar to the others that Trent provided. In each case, I think that we can find ways to better support those causes we care about if we simply look at our own lives and the actions that we take. Personal responsibility is a powerful tool.

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