Part of your wisdom portfolio
One of my bugbears is people making totally confident declarations. Whether they are right or wrong is not the problem. What dismays me is sensing a complete absence of doubt, for I believe the essence of civilisation is the admittance of possibilities, and being unsure is its natural outcome.
When I witness such mental adolescence, it immediately gets my hackles up and makes me want to challenge them and make them admit the world of alternatives. Even if what they are saying is materially right, it is wrong on another level when it’s not coloured with reticence. Sometimes I take up the cudgel on behalf of doubt; at other times, I inwardly utter gentlemanly curses and let it go. It adds insult to injury if I know they are factually wrong too.
Every type of person is prone to this defect. Leaders, managers, experts, parents, spouses, friends, and relatives are all guilty of oral conceit in small and large utterances. I am also guilty of it, although I’ve been trying for a while, with faintly discernible success, to beware and stop myself from bleating things willy nilly.
So why do we all do this?
Understanding the Philosophy of Life Instinct tells us it’s a trait that must be an outcome of instinct and evolution. It means it’s had benefits for survival, fitness, or reproduction. Without research, the idea that comes to mind is that overconfident statements are intended to impress and control others. It could have been a feature that aided the survival of the fittest in a time when fight or flight were crucial, and there wasn’t the time to question and analyse everything.
Further, in this philosophical context, we can say, “There is nothing right or wrong, but our being a life form makes it so.” When we grasp this, we realise there is no absolute truth, and everything is relative to us. It should give us pause even more in making any claim vehemently.
But the condition of our species is very different now. Being aggressive and ‘alpha’ is becoming passe. This change has gone hand in hand with our genus and species’ increasing intelligence and cooperation. We’ve applied reflection, questioning, and doubt powerfully over the last million years or so, and it is accelerating in every aspect of our life, world, and beyond.
Not only is questioning essential to learning, discovery, and invention, but there are several problems with the opposite, blind assumption. When we don’t examine our beliefs, opinions, or supposed knowledge, it constrains our intelligence and poorly serves our potential. It usually drives poor results for ourselves, and if we are influential to any extent, which we all are, it often harms others in small or big ways.
When we speak without reflection and genuine humility to an intelligent and free audience, it tries to catch us out in a fallacy or objects to our pomposity. And remember, it quickly spots fake and superficial lead-ins atop bombast, like “I could be wrong”, “my two cents”, etc. At best, our listeners tolerate us, and at worst, they retort with disagreement, disdain, dislike, and distance. We can unwittingly leave a trail of frustration and destruction in the wake of blind views.
Humans are quite ready to declare the absence of doubt as an imperfection. And a far more serious one than we may have taken it as till now.
So let’s perfume our statements with the fragrance of humility. Let’s leave behind the hubris of unexamined assertions, the immaturity of the undoubting mind. Let’s admit that what we present as knowledge is often merely an opinion or idea. When we acknowledge we could be wrong, we are always right. Genuine wonder is not a weakness but a strength. It makes us stronger together and creates a better world.
I submit this with modesty, for I could be wrong.