‘I tell you, the first duty of manhood and womanhood is a Declaration of Independence.’ (Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw)
‘I don’t know’ ‘I’m not sure,’ are often received as statements of weakness, vacillation or lacking intellectual rigour. I beg to disagree. I believe they are two of the strongest statements a person can make because they express doubt, which is the starting point for inquiry.
Doubt expresses independent thought, the refusal to rush into absolutes or accept received wisdom without examination, whether it’s in the field of domestic life, politics, business or religion. Doubt enables an individual to be their own person with their own set of principles; such people are the ones who often become whistle-blowers or evolve new ideas.
Doubt should be part of everyone’s lexicon; it acts as a brake on judgement and blame, rigidity and oppression. If only Nigel Farage, Netanyahu, Al-Shabaab or ISIS entertained even a micro dot of doubt, how different the world would be. Doubt is the question mark over everything that’s authoritarian, imposed or demanded; by its very nature doubt is investigative and questioning.
There are some absolutes in life which must always safeguarded, and which doubt helps to protect, such as everyone’s right to be treated with respect, to enjoy equal opportunities, civil liberties, freedom of expression and safety from harm.
Doubt provides the ever-open door which allows for traditions, law, and social beliefs to be questioned, explored and evolved. Beliefs are generally transmitted as unquestionable ‘truths’ by parents and society and most often, doubt is discouraged or expressly forbidden. Authority (whether represented by family, religion, ideology or government) will endeavour to suppress doubt, because doubt is the first crack in the façade; doubt is the child who questions the emperor’s new clothes.
Questioning is the bedrock of doubt and doubt is the bedrock of thought and investigation; thereby contributing to the expansion of knowledge and progress.
‘I don’t know,’ ‘I’m not sure,’ are two of the most powerful phrases in any language and should be valued as a resource, as the expression of confidence, self-respect and self-esteem. They are the place where manipulation, absolutes and oppressive beliefs can’t be used as truncheons, and are evidence that little is written in stone and everything is subject to inquiry.
Doubt is often blamed for situations where there is an inability to get anything done or where decisions are often deferred. This is not doubt but something different: evasion, excuse, paralysis; these conditions seldom produce anything positive.
Doubt is the inoculation against arrogance, ego and power-play.
Descartes’ famous phrase ‘I think, therefore I am,’ could be paired up with ‘I doubt, therefore I think.’