Thursday, March 10, 2011

"The Double-Edged Attribute Of Doubt"

“You doubt.”

Somebody once said that to me. I took it as a compliment. Partly because I enjoy being a Doubter. Partly because I take pleasure in receiving confirmation that something I believe about myself is correct. Partly because the woman who said it made “You doubt” sound like a compliment. And partly because she was a nice-looking woman. Though those “partlies” are not of equal importance, in the scheme of things, I was feeling pretty darn good about myself.

As far back as I can remember, I have always been an Orthodox Doubter. A Doubter who doubts everything but doubting. I recall back in Third Grade – or Grade Three as Canadians call it – being a student at the Toronto Hebrew Day School, it was Bible class, and they were teaching us about the moment the Ten Commandments were delivered, a moment where, we were told, the blind could suddenly see and the deaf suddenly hear.

I can see myself, sitting in class, seriously doubting that the event depicted in the Book of Exodus had actually taken place. My reservations emerged as a derisive guffaw, followed by an unambiguous, “Oh, sure!” Shortly after which, I was relocated to the principal’s office.

So I’ve been skeptical for quite a while. Not cynical – a cynic doesn’t believe anything. A skeptic, which, to me, is synonymous with “independent thinker”, merely says, “What you say may be true, but I’m going to need a little more evidence.”

If you want me to believe something, you’re going to have to meet a higher evidentiary standard than, “It says so in the Bible.” The Bible’s a wonderful book, but its legitimacy derives more from the belief in its Divine Inspiration than from objective, corroborative support.

“A blind man confirmed that, during the delivery of the Ten Commandments, he was suddenly able to see. This reporter was unable, however, to locate the man later to confirm whether or not, after the delivery of Ten Commandments, he went back to being blind.”

Ultimately, the belief in the events described in the Bible is a matter of faith, a characteristic found in extremely short supply in the Doubter.

The condition of doubting is no respecter categorical boundaries. The committed Doubter is a Doubter across the board. Though this global consistency does not in any way, at least in my eyes, reduce its respectability as a way of looking at the world, it must be truthfully acknowledged that the Doubter’s perspective does not come without a rather hefty personal price.

Consider the hardly unpopular sub-category of the Doubter – the self-Doubter.

Welcome to my world.

But hey, if you’re a full-service Doubter, how can you, if intellectual integrity means anything to you at all, exempt yourself?

You can’t.

A situation that can prove troublesome. Especially when you’re trying to do something enormously difficult. (Or, as the optimists call it, challenging.)

Like running a television series.

Like The Cosby Show.

Which I ran for a couple of months at the beginning of its run, and then had to walk away from, primarily because I very seriously questioned my ability to do the job.

I will bypass the specifics of “the conditions on the ground.” We will focus simply on two facts: the challenge was monumental, and the galoot facing with dealing with it was a lifelong Doubter.

Smart people do not put money on such situations working out.

Why? Because of the inevitable, accompanying “Doubter’s Attitude”, an attitude, which will single-handedly determine the likelihood of success.

Here are the “Bettor’s Odds”, based on the Doubter’s “realistic” (or maybe without the quotation marks) mind-set:

“I’ve done this before, I can do it again.”


“I’ve done something similar to this, there is no reason to believe with a certainty that I can’t do it this time.”

Thirty-seventy, against.

“I have never done this before, and though there is little reason to believe I can do it this time, I am going to give it a try.”

Not a chance in hell.

Doubters clearly have their limitations. On the sidelines, they’re terrific, voices of sanity against calamitous over-reaching. On the front lines, however, you are better off with somebody else, someone with the, problematic to the Doubter yet often successful American sense of “can do” certainty.

History records Americans achieving the impossible, again and again. Against reason, and overwhelming odds, Americans blast through the Rockies and build the transcontinental railroad, Americans rocket to the moon, Americans go into their garages, and come out with the internet.

And Americans take on an Everest of problems and obstacles, and make movies and TV shows, and sometimes, really good ones.

Where are the Doubters? Looming on the periphery, skeptically shaking their heads.

Doubting is an admirable perspective.

It’s too bad it makes it so hard to get anything truly difficult done.

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