The Need for Doubt
How does one define belief? As I considered potential ideas for this essay, I found myself asking this question. I thought, surely if a belief came to my mind, then I should be able to explain it to someone or at least find some self evidence to prove my theory. But with no avail, I found it almost impossible to explain every belief that came to my mind. As I looked at my essay on paper, all I saw was a bunch of words, none of which captured my belief. Quite simply, I really was not sure if I truly did believe what I had just written about. So let me state, then, my belief in doubt. My doubt, my uncertain hesitance, saved me from putting a falsehood onto paper, without even realizing I was doing so.
This failure to explain my essay is how I realized the importance of uncertainty. In rushing to discover and explain what I thought I believed in, I forgot to question my own belief. I feel we are afraid to analyze our beliefs; this resistance comes from fear of discovering that, perhaps, we have been following a falsehood. While my epiphany resulted from a WittSem assignment, I see now how vital this state of uncertainty is in “real life”. If we can honestly look at a belief—trying to prove our own truth wrong and in doing so, come up with no reason to stop believing in it—then we have verified something deeply important to us and proved our own belief’s worth. Moreover, this procedure of doubt ironically justifies our belief.
We must also look deep into our belief to make sure it was self-created, that it was not planted in our minds by an outsider, like a weed growing up in our garden of the mind. The
phrase “I believe” is increasingly common in today’s society; and with this increase of publicizing of one’s own belief, comes a rising danger of blindly accepting someone else’s truth as one’s own and letting it grow into a weed. If no doubt, no skepticism for new ideas is present, then one’s mind is wide open for the taking; like a bank vault watched by a sleeping guard. It is essential that we remain in constant examination of our ideas. If we discover we have in fact been living a lie, then we have done nothing but save ourselves from a state of self-deception. If we find ourselves in a condition of doubt, we can be certain of one thing: as long as we always question our belief, then we are safe to hold it as true, until proven otherwise. This is why I believe in the importance of uncertainty, the value of disbelief, and the power of questioning—or at least, until evidence shows me otherwise.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.