Having Doubt (#74)
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend time with one of my favorite people, the scholar and public speaking guru, Conor Neill. Conor has helped many people drastically improve their public speaking abilities by teaching them how to develop a confident, compelling message, leaving their listener with no doubt that they are an expert on their subject.
Our discussion quickly turned to the growing entrenchment in rigid ideology around the world. Conor connected this to the concept of faith and shared a story about a devoutly religious friend of his who was open to all questions and criticism about his beliefs.
This friend spoke with Conor about the importance of having faith in the face of doubt. His premise is that, if you have only doubt, you’re cynical. On the flip side, if you do not doubt, then your beliefs begin to border on fanaticism, even fascism in the most extreme cases.
This is a powerful concept and, in many ways, explains the dynamics undermining the very divided political environment in the U.S. and around the world. Today, people seem less open to dialog and respectful debate, or even trying to understand an alternate perspective. Instead, they’re defaulting to rigid ideology or even anger when their core positions are challenged.
Exacerbating this situation is the fact that many of us get a majority of our news from social media; platforms that curate the information we receive based on our past behavior, stated preferences, and our peer set. This creates a strong propensity for “confirmation bias” as we are exposed to stories and opinions that support the views we already have—some of which are unsubstantiated rumors or outright lies (e.g. fake news). This is a very dangerous phenomenon that we all need to be more aware of.
While we need vision, conviction, and confidence to be successful, we also need to balance that with doubt, healthy skepticism, and humility.
Here are a few more benefits of having doubt and openly contemplating it with others:
- It keeps us open to new ideas and perspectives
- It keeps us humble and motivated (overconfidence is often often a precursor to failure)
- It causes us to question more and to test our own assumptions more carefully
Quote of the Week
“We should be unafraid to doubt. There is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the more robust for having experienced its doubts.”