Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Law Of Beliefs

By: Gregory S. Cusimano

Beliefs control our lives, our conduct, our actions and our decisions. Wayne Dyar, a noted author, has said, “When we look at things differently, the things we look at change.”  We should never underestimate the change we can make in ourselves, or overestimate the change we can make in others; however, changing ourselves often has the effect of changing others. 

Many sociologists have said that all that we are is a culmination of what we think.  Stuart Chase has said, “for those who believe, no proof is necessary.  For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”  Core beliefs have more to do with how a jury makes a decision than proof.

Viruses of the mind have infected us, viruses that have been called “memes” (rhymes with dreams). A meme is nothing more than an idea that acts as a virus. It can be an idea or belief that is passed on from one person to another. It grows and evolves like a virus. A meme transmitted to others or groups can be an idea, symbol or even a cultural norm. It has no substance like a virus does.  It can’t be found under the microscope, but it acts a similar way.  It has a propensity to infect, spread and infiltrate. We commonly say today, “It has gone viral.” That’s exactly how a physical virus acts and that’s what a meme does which is why it has been referred to as a virus of the mind. A meme may mutate, propagate or become extinct. The reference aids in the understanding of this phenomenon. (See examples below). Memes, or the study of memes, which is called memetics, actually evolve like viruses.  These ideas, or memes, just like viruses, can change or become resistant to challenge and may become stronger and harder to change.  Memes as viruses of the mind can become enabling and empowering or depleting and depressing.  They exist in all of us!

My parents infected me with several memes, some truly contradicting.  Both my mother and father infected me with what has been called depression or scarcity mentality where you live your life trying to gather and protect because you feel that tomorrow you may not have the necessities of life.  My father also infected me with the meme that you can do whatever you want to do, that if you work hard enough, and smart enough, and long enough, you can achieve your goals.  My mom infected me with the meme that you better be careful crossing the street, you could get smashed by a big truck, or you better watch it when you go swimming, a lot of people drown, or even, don’t join the country club or expect to be a member, because you may not be good enough -- they will reject you because are at different. Somehow this meme generates fear. I also fear that maybe I infected my children.  For me I’ve had to find the courage to face my fears. Like many it is a continuing struggle.

So how does all this relate to the law and jury decision-making? Can we understand so that we can learn how to use memes? Can we discover them through jury research?  Yes we can! Understanding and using memes in preparation and trial (and in our lives) can be a powerful tool. We must know what people on the jury believe so we can frame our trial story to be as consistent with their believes, their memes as possible. Yes, it requires thinking differently, but it didn’t hurt “Apple” and it won’t hurt us.

Of course, we’re ultimately talking about juries. It has been said that everything that is truly feared cannot be loved and everything that is truly loved cannot be feared.  If we in fact love the jury and the jury system, then should we be afraid?  I’ll leave that to you.  To succeed in today‘s environment, we must change; we must distinguish our selves as well as our cases. Remember, Martin Luther King wrote a letter saying that everything that Hitler did was legal and everything that our forefathers did like Jefferson and Franklin and Adams was illegal. Sometimes we must challenge the rules, the time honored traditions. I’m not recommending doing anything illegal, but breaking out of our ruts. Sometime I take solace that I am not in a rut, but really just in a groove. I must look and sincerely examine my conduct and myself.

Ultimately, we must remember that it is not, “if I see it, I’ll believe it”; it is, “if I believe it I’ll see it.” That truism operates at both a conscious and unconscious level at a system one (Intuition) and a system two (reason) level, at a mindful level and a mindless level, at a thoughtful level and a thoughtless level, at a logical level and at a habitual level. 


  1. These are exciting times in neuroscience and in cognitive and social psychology. So too, these are exciting times in trial advocacy. We should accept Greg's invitation to learn to use memes and other scientific discoveries to become skilled in communicating our message and in seeking justice for those who have been harmed and are in need of protection.

  2. Thanks David,
    We are on the cusp of learning so much more.