We’re so used to outsourcing our thinking to others that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to really understand something from all perspectives. We’ve forgotten just how much work that takes. The path of least resistance, however, is just a click away. Reading headlines and skimming the news seems harmless, but it is harmful because it makes us over-confident — in our investments, our political views and other aspects of our lives too.
Doubt is needed as an antidote to this. In Svend Brinkmann’s excellent book “Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze”, Brinkmann rages against the craze for certainty that modern life demands and suggests that doubt is not just a luxury, but a necessary skill that we all should start to develop:
In essence, certainty is necessarily dogmatic, whereas doubt has an important ethical value. How do I figure that out? Well, certainty’s “I know” easily leads to blindness — especially when you know that it’s best to say yes. Doubt on the other hand leads to openness, to other ways of acting and new understandings of the world. If I know, I don’t need to listen. But if I’m in doubt, other people’s perspectives are endowed with greater meaning.
Doing your own research is the first step in bringing doubt into your daily life. It will feel uncomfortable, it will feel tiring, it will feel like its a waste of time…at least at first. But by reading widely, in your own area of interest but across different disciplines you will be much more comfortable in expressing your view, where there is evidence to back up a particular viewpoint, and where there is not.
Remember, the insights of the future will come from those who are able to understand how the picture fits together, how developments in one part of the world will affect something on the other side — something that to everyone else feels at first to be completely unrelated.
Open your mind to new possibilities. Be doubtful.