Doubt is like a powerful corrosive that can eat away at anything it touches. We often speak of doubt in the negative and motivational speakers chastise us for letting it into our lives and ruining our ability to accomplish life goals. I have begun to develop a view of doubt that hold two opposing truths.
1. Doubt can be an important medicinal tool to un-stick ourselves from calcified and inappropriate assumptions about ourselves in this world. For example, a little bit of doubt is what can save someone from a demeanor of arrogance and self-righteousness. We can probably think of a few people in politics who could use a little well-placed doubt right about now.
2. Too many of us use this toxic treatment for every illness, real or perceived, often smothering the very essence of who we are with corrosive thinking.
In the first case, I have found that doubt is a useful tool to un-stick myself from impossible assumptions about my life. “I will never change” is a certainty that could use some doubt. Cynicism is certainty without hope, and it is always a pleasure to see when a cynic is forced to confront the possibility that things just might not be as dark as they seem. (The 2004 Red Sox championship season was just such a moment for me.) In these cases, doubt can open us up to possibilities that we couldn’t see or wouldn’t begin to dream of before. And, if applied delicately and with thoughtfulness, a leader can change a culture and move a nation into a new era. (Think: Lincoln, King, Ghandi, etc…)
In the second case, however, we misunderstand the role of doubt and just how terrible a drug it is. Many of us apply it to our sense of self worth when confronted with the prospect of failure. Many of us have an ideal of who we are meant to be (inappropriately fixed images) and when it becomes clear that we can’t reach that ideal, we begin to pour the doubt everywhere. “I’m no good, I suck at this, I never should have tried, etc…” may be some of the ways in which we hammer ourselves.
(Warning: medical analogy from someone who is not a doctor.)
Imagine if you went to the doctor complaining of a headache and they signed you up for chemo. Chemo is a useful drug that can often prolong the life of cancer patients, sometimes giving them decades more quality life. It is also one of the most destructive medicines on the market, attacking good cells as well as bad. The point is, just because it is good for one type of sickness (cancer) doesn’t mean that it is good for all diseases.
We all could be more mindful of how we utilize doubt in our lives. We can become students of our own behavior and way of thinking to identify patterns and pitfalls. When I make a mistake, do I begin to doubt my right to take chances? When I am hurt, do I doubt my self worth? Do I doubt my right to be here and to participate in this life? If so, please stop. No one has ever made themselves or the people they are with happier because they doubted their self-worth.
Conversely, do I think I have to know every answer? Am I locked into a fundamental way of thinking about this world? Is that assumption keeping me from making connections, narrowing my influence and shutting out innovative ideas? If so, perhaps it is time to apply the tiniest bit of doubt, thereby opening up the possibility of new horizons and new understandings.
This is my first post. I hope that you enjoyed it.