A given society isn't a collection of monuments, an ideology or even the historic records it produces. A society is a living thing, and what comprises it are the people who self-identify with it by embracing a set of beliefs that are specific to that society. That collection of shared beliefs make up a vast agreement field. Take away the agreement field that binds a society together, and it either reorganizes or collapses. We find evidence of that fact throughout history: societies have risen, established powerful agreement fields, and then disappeared abruptly once the agreement field no longer reflected the truth of who the people knew themselves to be.
Consider feudal Europe. For centuries those who lived and died there unconsciously accepted the shared belief that some of them were born to be royal and others were born to be peasants. That social structure, with all its myriad rules and complexities, made up an enormous part of their shared agreement field. Hardly anyone challenged the system; peasants grew up knowing they'd likely be poor their entire lives and that their function was to serve the royal class - of which they could never, ever become a part. Then suddenly, during a short spasm of revolution that began in the late 18th century, a majority of people all over Europe chose to "opt out" of their shared agreement fields. They guillotined the French aristocracy (upending once and for all the notion of subservience). They also murdered the Russian royals and stripped the surviving European monarchs of any real power. Americans too decided to reject their agreement field with England, upending the old colonial relationship to establish a brand new field of agreement we now know as "democracy." What drove that shift, as we well know, was a massive shift in human consciousness. A collective awareness rose among people that the feudal system was inherently wrong because it didn't fairly honor and nurture the majority of those born into it. That new conviction, which flooded the hearts of the suffering peasants with its deeper truth, replaced their simple, previously unexamined belief - that they were born peasants and were destined to die peasants - that had once been the social norm.
Every agreement field - and almost all the beliefs it contains - operates mainly on a subconscious (unexamined) level, because it's been programmed since birth into our collective consciousness. Unexamined though such agreement fields may be, they define every society and establish the rules under which the citizens agree to conduct themselves - for all their lives.
Beyond our primary social agreement field there exist numerous smaller, overlapping fields of agreement based on culture, political beliefs, family histories, economic systems, religions, racial backgrounds and personal life experiences. These fields are often out of harmony with one another, or with the larger societal agreement field. Wherever they come into conflict is where we find most of the suffering in our world. One group of individuals may identify with a white supremacist field of agreement, while another might embrace an agreement field of African-American racial oppression under the despotic rule of the white man. Place these two agreement fields side by side and violence might well erupt.
When specific beliefs from two powerful fields are in conflict, it places individuals who identify with both fields in a difficult position. They often feel they must choose one field over the other (i.e.: my Christian beliefs are more important to me than my national beliefs). They then try to change the beliefs in the one field so they more closely match the beliefs in the field toward which they feel a stronger affinity. In essence, by "converting" the beliefs that are part of the secular field of agreement to match their Christian set of beliefs, they hope to end the cognitive dissonance and/or alienation they feel. The trouble is, the very act of attempting to forcibly convert the larger secular agreement field to Christianity triggers cognitive dissonance in those who haven't signed on for the Christian field of agreement, and who aren't interested in having that become a litmus test for being a "good" U.S. citizen.
When we examine the cognitive dissonance we sometimes feel when the fields of agreement we self-identify with are in direct conflict, we really have two choices, not one. Obviously, if they're in direct conflict, one of the beliefs has got to be wrong. Rather than simply and uncritically choose which agreement field we support and which we must reject or change to be happy, our wisest move is to step outside BOTH agreement fields for a time and examine the specific belief that is causing us the problem. An uncritical or fear-based mind tends to lurch blindly toward the agreement field that has impressed itself most deeply on the psyche through years of conditioned programming, but IS that the best reason for us to embrace a belief? By taking the time to deeply examine what it is we truly believe, we empower ourselves to discover our own highest truth.
The trouble with all these longstanding agreement fields that overlap and coincide to form a complex human society is that they came into existence long before most of us were born. We weren't offered much in the way of opportunity to contribute our truths to them, and often were taught that just questioning them was enough to cause us to be rejected by the others who were in the agreement field. For the main part we were also indoctrinated into these agreement fields before we were old enough to think for ourselves, which makes it very hard for us to question what we believe.
There's a heaviness that seems to develop over time in every society, and America is feeling it now. It results from the collective weightiness of the conflicts from all the longstanding agreement fields we've put into place. Many of those agreement fields are relics of bygone eras, but the very act of letting them go seems terrifying to those who self-identify with them. Who am I, we wonder, if not the sum total of all my agreement fields?
As we ask ourselves that question, what we discover is that as we begin to release our mental grip on all our various agreement fields, what emerges is something that is not lessened by our lessening of attachments, but expanded beyond measure. Our attachments to our unconscious agreement fields limit our capacity to engage with each other - to engage life - on the broadest possible level where we all can agree: that we ARE life, having a shared (albeit temporary) bodily experience. All the rest of it - mother, Christian, daughter, employee, artist, wife, friend, middle class, American - are beliefs about who we are, distinctions we make that bring color and passion and direction to our lives...but they're not the truth. Today I may be a wife; tomorrow I may be a widow. That being the case, how helpful is it for me to attach to tightly to the notion that I am wife? Why not just settle for loving where I am, as I am, and being grateful for what I have while I still have it?