I believe in doubt. Yes, there’s irony in that. I woke up in the quiet dark of 4 a.m. thinking of this essay series, and wondering what I believed in. Others’ beliefs seem so strong, and mine don’t, at least in comparison. I doubted I had anything I believed in unquestioningly.
Then it hit me: I believe in doubt. I believe doubt is necessary for faith, for honesty, for finding the truth, for standing up for what I believe in. It prevents me from acting without thinking, and helps me gauge my actions against their possible outcomes before I commit to them. It keeps me questioning, searching for meaning, and myself. It casts a shadow on my stubborn self-assuredness and teaches me humility. If I doubt, I know I’m not blindly following someone else’s truth, but truly living my life.
I’m taking the Master’s exam in March, and I doubted whether I should continue to the PhD, or if I even wanted to. I had come up with a million reasons why not — I want to spend more time with my husband; I’m nearing thirty and want to have kids sometime soon; the list could go on. But I considered this doubt and, taking an honest assessment, I discovered that I truly do want to continue studying — that the PhD is the next step for me to take. Because I doubted, and examined that doubt, I have faith that I have made a good decision, and I will have that strength of conviction to get me through the more difficult times — late nights, jam-packed schedules, heavy workloads, the dissertation — which will all inevitably come. When asked, I can tell people why I’ve decided the way I have, and in telling them the doubts I’ve overcome, I believe more strongly that this is the right path for me.
Recently a friend shared with me her separation from her husband, and some of the things that they had said to one another. I don’t know whether all those harsh words were in the heat of an argument, or whether they held some of the truth, or all, but doubt keeps me listening to my friend, and helps me refrain from interfering or from passing judgment on their relationship. Doubt tells me I don’t really know what is best for them, even when I think I do.
I’ve noticed the need for doubt in wider circles too. In the current political climate, doubt is a thing to be avoided, as though absolute confidence and unwavering conviction are not only possible, but also necessary to being a good citizen. Questioning authority is treated as sacrilige, which leads me to think that authority has not asked itself questions, isn’t facing its own doubts. I believe that I, that we, need doubt, and need to question: not to destroy belief, but to build it up; to be more honest with ourselves and the world; to become stronger, but still remain teachable.
This I believe.
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