I've lifted the second half of Martin Grebel's book title to headline this review because it's something I believe. The book is Reality Check: In the Battle Against Reality, Reality Always Wins. Its a short book by a clinical psychologist arguing for reality, starting with the problem of our beliefs.
How do we know that what we believe is real? In many cases, how do we even know what we believe? Many of our beliefs are formed in early childhood, long before we are capable of judging whether they are true or not. And once we have a belief, especially one that gives us our sense of identity, we tend to ignore or discount any evidence that contradicts the belief and to accept without question evidence that supports it. For example, a child growing up in a very troubled, poor, and uncaring family "would almost certainly develop far more negative beliefs about life" than one growing up in secure, loving family.
Grebel notes that parents have complained over the years that their children don't listen or still act inappropriately no matter how angry they get or how they threaten. If the parents do not change their beliefs about how to moderate a child's behavior—a belief usually based in how they were raised—nothing will change.
Grebel notes that science—"an intricate, subtle, and complex system used in acquiring knowledge and applying it to the knowable world"—is the most reliable model for evaluating beliefs. Science relies on accumulating evidence to determine whether a hypothesis or theory (or belief) is valid or invalid. The challenge, of course, is to recognize both one's beliefs and the evidence that contradicts it. (We usually don't have trouble recognizing the evidence that supports what we believe.)
When belief systems are invalid, he writes, "they often produce long-term negative effects on our well-being, while also lowering responsiveness to our real needs, wants, and feelings. In these instances we pay a double price: loss of self and coping with negative outcomes." For example, people who are overly self-directed tend to believe their viewpoints are not only correct but are the only valid view. "They believe that being aggressive in pursuing their own goals is always legitimate regardless of any negative impact it may have on others." Others, impacted negatively, may reject or sabotage or avoid (or all three).
While I think highly of Reality Check, I thought it could have been even better with an index and with more examples from sources other than Dr. Grebel's on practice. As it stands, it is almost an essentials text rather than fully exploring the subject—when I would like more. Nevertheless, Reality Check should make you think (always a good thing), and I recommend it.