Certainty is Selfish

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On a cerebral level, doubt is uncomfortable, it provokes anxiety. (Listening to the Sam Harris podcast episode “The Biology of Good and Evil.”) That’s why so many people refuse to entertain it. They would rather just believe what they believe, regardless of what effect that belief has on others.

I wrote this in 2014:

I begin to think that one of the most essential keys to having meaningful relationships is a lack of certainty in life. If you know that things are a certain way, then it’s hard to entertain differing perspectives honestly, without condescension or judgment or having formed your opinion even before someone speaks.

Effective communication starts with the understanding that there is my point of view (my truth) and someone else’s point of view (his truth). Rarely is there one absolute truth, so people who believe that they speak the truth are very silencing of others. When we recognize that we can see things only from our own perspective, we can share our views in a nonthreatening way.  —Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

I think we need to make a much greater effort to distinguish between believing and knowing in our lives. Relatively few things are actually facts, after all, and these are mostly to do with the physical world around us. The earth orbits the sun; this is true no matter what culture you come from, and we know it because of scientific observation and study. There’s nothing subjective about it; the design of the solar system is a fact.

Some things are not facts—like religion. Every religion I know of is based on faith, which specifically means that you believe without proof. So no one should be offended to hear that their religious belief is not fact; we all already know this. We all believe that our own religion is true, and we believe it so strongly that we say we know it’s true (same with politics, same with our favorite sports teams, same with just about everything). But we don’t. Belief and knowledge are not the same thing, and I think it’s important to be comfortable with that distinction.

The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
—Oscar Wilde

One Comment Add yours

  1. Very good point about distinguishing between believing and knowing, between opinion and fact and having an open mind.
    “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
    Albert Einstein

    Like

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