A whole train of passengers (individually brave enough) will be looted by a few highwaymen, simply because the latter can count on one another, while each passenger fears that if he makes a movement of resistance, he will be shot before anyone else backs him up. If we believed that the whole car-full would rise at once with us, we should each severally rise, and train-robbing would never even be attempted. There are, then, cases where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming.
William James, The Will to Believe
William James, a philosopher from the American pragmatist tradition, wrote “The Will to Believe” in 1896 in response to another philosopher’s claim that we should suspend belief until we have enough evidence to justify the belief. James argued that on the important things in life, suspending belief prevents the world from becoming the way we want it to be.
In my younger days, I was very harsh on James’ thesis. As I’ve matured a bit, I see that there’s a lot of truth to it. For instance, have you ever noticed that when you acted as if people were trustworthy and helpful, they became trustworthy and helpful? Were you to have acted in ways that signaled you didn’t trust them, they would’ve change their behaviors accordingly. Your beliefs and actions had a large role in making the state of affairs match them.
Because people are afraid of failing and believe and act as if they will fail, they end up scripting reality to match their beliefs. Hence the important point of learning to become comfortable with failures and mistakes is that you’re less likely, in the end, to make the biggest mistake: to remain steady, dependable, and run-of-the mill. Being remarkable is risky and brings its share of mistakes, but the bigger risk is to sit on the sidelines waiting for the world to give you your chance.
I’m not at all saying that there’s some spooky or weird force out in the world that makes the world match your intentions and actions. What I’m saying is that in the social but isolated world we live in, our intentions, energy, and actions change the social environment around us. People want to be a part of something and want to be excited, but they’re waiting for somebody else to be the catalyst for change. Their time, they think, will come when the world is ready for them. So they wait.
The world is ready for you today. We want to see the best parts of you, and we want you to share the value you bring to the world. Sure, we’re scared to tell you that, or we’re busy, or lost in our own worlds, but when you show up, we’re ready for you. It’s the way we are.
But if you’re waiting for proof of this before you act, you’ll never get it. Proof comes after you act.
So, what would you do differently if you believed that the world would stand up with you?