Embrace Your Doubt

There’s a house along the route to town which always has a sign up with some funny, pithy, philosophical saying on it, rotating out on a regular basis. The other day I was passing by, and the new message for motorists was “Our only true weakness is Doubt” and I started thinking.

I’m not entirely sure I agree. Sure, doubt of the self-aimed variety can be crippling and immobilizing. I’m well acquainted with the size and color of that particular beastie in the weeds. Continual doubt of our loved ones can also be rather horrible, since it leads to mistrust and eventually a shredding of the confidence of the person we’re inflicting that Doubt-demon on.

But those are the extremes, the major doubt-monsters, the ones we’ve allowed to grow into full-size predators complete with teeth and claws and slavering hunger to devour all our confidence in a single gulp. As with everything, balance is key. Nobody needs doubt like that in their life, it leads to ill-health in a variety of forms. But I maintain people need a little bit of doubt, just a tiny little shoulder-pet sized one, to ride along and keep us balanced.

Because doubt is the thing that makes us curl up on the couch, frozen into immobility. But it’s also what keeps us from blithely driving off the edge of the cliff, certain we’ll sprout wings halfway down. Doubt makes us pause, and consider, and perhaps choose a safer way down the mountain. And doubt keeps us from yanking all our friends over the cliff too, by making us stop and listen to the passenger saying hey, maybe we shouldn’t go over the cliff yanno? In short, a little bit of doubt in ourselves keeps us from being insufferable egotistical assholes who can’t see the danger for our own pride.

Doubt in others may lead us to mistrust those who have given us no reason not to trust, and to treating those around us like villains in our stories. But a little, reasonable-sized doubt also keeps us from being too gullible (a fault I am all too prone to). It makes us stop and assess the trustworthiness of the person asserting we can fly if we only trust them, and leads us to form our own opinions rather than blindly following in the footsteps of whoever is the most persuasive.

Little, well-controlled, doubt-pets keep us thinking critically both of the world around us and of our own actions. Without a little doubt, the world would be a much messier place, buffeted by the whims of the fastest talkers and the biggest egos. Because life isn’t easy-peasy pudding’ and pie, there’s a razor edge we balance on between these two extremes. And of course, when people say “Get rid of the doubt in your life” they mean the big monsters, the ones out rampaging for your confidence and munching on your relationships. But that’s not exactly what they say, and it’s something we should all keep in mind when we’re thinking about these things. Life isn’t just one balancing act, it’s a million balancing acts stacked on top of each other, like those circus tight-rope walkers who ride a bicycle while carrying spinning plates on top of sticks. Sometimes we lose our hold on the tight-rope, and all the plates come crashing down around us, but the only way to go on is to glue whatever plates can be salvaged back together and climb back up on the unicycle.

As a side-note, this applies to our writing too. Too much doubt makes us scrap a story, or even our entire careers. But just the lightest touch of doubt makes us revise the story, or try a new career-option, because maybe we’re not 100% right the first time around.

A little doubt is good. Embrace your doubts, just don’t feed them too much slavish attention or they’ll grow into unmanageable monsters sitting on your chest.

Of course I could be entirely wrong.


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