Belief is everything

You might be surprised that I’ve learnt many life lessons from books. Specifically, fantasy fiction. Today, I’m going to tell you one of them.

Warning: There will be spoilers, even though I’ve summarised a fair chunk of the book. The following comes from the book Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. If you don’t want spoilers, you should stop reading… now.

Gifted wrongly

I will be summarising extensively. There was this great druid. There was also this great evil (isn’t there always…). With some thought, the druid figured out how to defeat the great evil, and he forged a sword with which to do battle.

The druid decided to give the sword to another. I can’t remember why, whether out of sacrifice (didn’t want to get all the credit), or that he couldn’t fight anymore (old age). I’m sure a Shannara fan will happily correct me in the comments…

But the druid made a fatal mistake. He gifted the magic sword to the king of the elven people.

The king himself wasn’t the mistake. The position of kingship was.

The king went to do battle with the great evil and won. But a quiet cloak of belief had already settled onto the elven people. That the magic sword will only work for the king.

As a consequence of that belief, the elven people also believed that only the heirs of the king could successfully wield the great magic sword. This was wrong. The magic sword would work for any elf with the right purpose of heart. The druid had not forged any special condition into the sword.

But with mass belief, the unintended condition wrapped itself together with the magic. And eventually, it became true. Only heirs from the line of the original king could wield the magic sword.

Belief is everything

And that was one of my first life lessons. Belief is everything. Beliefs are powerful.

If you don’t believe that something will work, then it probably won’t.

If you believe you can fashion a database to support the technical aspects of your program, then yes, you probably will come up with a design to suit your needs.

Disbelief closes off possibilities.

A corollary of that is about mass belief. If many people believe in something, then that something has a lot of power. Religion, superstitions, doomsday announcements, electromagnetic waves. I’m not talking about proofs and so on, particularly with science. I’m talking purely about beliefs. Say some scientific experiment can be replicated with the same results. That convinces people of the validity of the theory behind the experiment, and thus belief in that theory. It’s still belief.

This gave me confidence and understanding of certain human endeavors. Why do some people succeed at businesses? Many people believe that starting your own business is risky. And they’d be right. And those people who succeed? Those people believe they can succeed in making their business work, overriding the disbelief from the people around them.

Belief is everything.

It’s how I’ve upheld my own beliefs in the face of every belief thrown at me from everyone around me. My family. My friends. Even strangers.

Of course, you don’t have to listen to me. “Everything” is an absolute term. But that means you do believe in something, just not my version.

Just in case you’re interested in what the magic sword can do, it does one thing only. It reveals the truth. That great evil grew powerful because of the fear from the people. Yes, the belief that the great evil is indeed very powerful and can do great harm, made the evil even more powerful. The magic sword unveiled the truth, that the great evil was simply a malevolent shadow of a man.

Politicians, scammers and liars of all sorts would fear the Sword of Shannara indeed.


  1. Thanks for the throw back comment to the Sword of Shannara… and the subsequent hour lost to reading through wiki pages and fan sites on the books. I haven’t through about them for a few years.

    I dig what you are saying on the nature of belief I think a collorary would be belief and words… and how words have power when there is sufficient belief.

    Now back to my webform and mapping out a year of robot learning!

  2. Hi Jeremy, I believe (pun not intended) that beliefs, words and thoughts are sort of mushed together. This would probably be something philosophers, psychologists and biologists find interesting.

    To express a belief or thought, you need words. Words have power in that they solidify a concept that’s previously held only in a mind.

    And good luck to your robot learning! That sounds like fun.