I’ve decided to be less certain about things.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we determine what is true over the last few years. Naturally, most of this thinking has been directed toward people I disagree with. (How do they determine what is true?) There are all these competing narratives, and it’s possible for large numbers of people to occupy and perpetuate worldviews and narratives that are just so easily demonstrated to be flawed.
But when I direct this back toward myself, I know – I have always known – that my own systems of determining truth are also flawed.
I’m still heavily grounded in scientific materialism, and in the notion that causes can be distinguished from effects, and that the highest form of this truth is found in the peer-reviewed scientific journal. And yet we know – in fact science is entirely based on the premise – that any of these models of understanding could be overturned, and that viewing causes and effects as separable is often an inaccurate oversimplification.
I rely on mainstream journalism, including the Washington Post, the BBC, NPR. And yet I know they could be wrong – that the consensus reality that mainstream journalism represents can be badly mistaken sometimes. I certainly know that there’s a lot that it leaves out. I tune in to some feisty local outfits like Unicorn Riot, too, and get a different part of the picture, but that still doesn’t guarantee anything comprehensive or unmistaken.
This isn’t a nihilistic approach, though; I’m not dismissing everything. I still think these are some of the best sources I have access to, and I’ll trust them more than others. But there’s a difference between thinking something’s “definitely true”, and 99% likely to be true, and the difference, for me, is critical in who I am and my relationship with the world.
Basically, if I’m 100% certain about something, it’s much easier for me to be an asshole. To be cutting, to be mocking, to be dismissive of other points of view. 99% certain is softer. A little bit of doubt gives me a lot more humility, and a lot more compassion.
Because we’re all trying to figure this place out as best we can. And I can have compassion for that.
And if my views are more true than others, and I’m hoping to help to spread them, which approach will be more fertile?
Certainty is very tempting. So this has got to be an ongoing choice.