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Rabbi Ben Hecht

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Why There's Value in Self-Doubt

Posted: 08/17/2012 12:05 pm

Six Sikhs are murdered in their Temple in Wisconsin by a White Supremist -- and no one knows exactly why. We don't know is why he specifically targeted the Sikhs at this Temple. What we do know, though, was that he was filled with hate and somehow this overriding desire to harm others different than him manifested itself, on this fateful day, in this horrific manner. When we hear such stories, we think of the grave travesty of hate. What I think of though is the grave and tear-filled travesty of the absence of doubt.

What can make individuals undertake such a dreadful task even with knowledge that it may cost them their own lives? The simple answer is indeed hate but what is actually necessary for such negativity to develop is an inherent sense of surety. Those who hate, as Wade Page did, have to believe that they are 100 per cent correct in their views and, as such, others who may disagree are 100 per cent wrong and subsequently have no value.

Doubt does not mean that I cannot have opinions and make decisions. Life demands that I do so. Rather doubt is the recognition that whatever decisions I make are necessarily subject to the limits of my own being, knowledge and thought. It does not mean that I will perforce thus agree with the other. I may, in fact, still strongly disagree. What doubt does do, though, is intend myself to a search for the possible value in the other and the abiding recognition that there is more for me to learn.

Religion has been strongly attacked over the years for forging hate -- and there sadly is much evidence to this effect. What people do not recognize, though, is that much of this problem actually emerges from an over-reliance on faith -- unexamined faith with a restriction on questioning -- as the only basis, or only correct basis, for one's religious practice.

The actual result of such an approach is the conclusion is that one is right because one is right. The end result is an over-extension of ego. It is that ego that feeds the hate that erupted in this Sikh Temple in Wisconsin -- for the yardstick for all good is now solely the self. If I am the sole definition of what is good then the other who is different must be a deviation from this good, i.e. evil. And should we not then hate this evil - this other -- and do whatever we can, even at the cost of our own lives, to eradicate it? Welcome to the noble hate monger - and how do such people know that they are right - because they say so, and please don't confuse them with any argument.

Of course, evil does exist and must be fought, even sometimes with self-sacrifice. It is a black-and-white understanding of the world, though, that creates the Wade Pages. Once I begin to understand that, even within evil, there may be some reason which I may not understand that led this person along this path, my own hate becomes subject to my questioning and my faculties of reason. Maybe there is something - maybe even Wade Page had some perception -- which I am missing and from which I can learn. That still may not change my conclusion. I still define Wade Page's actions as evil but contemplation does, significantly, foster thought and introspection -- and the hesitation that does not turn me into another Wade Page.

We do not need evil to be totally black to recognize that it must be defeated. I am still bound to follow my convictions but, with the openness of doubt, it need no longer be driven by the demands of my ego. I can recognize that there is another side, albeit those arguments do not change my conclusion.

The challenge is that it is more difficult to maintain a decision when one recognizes that the facts are more resolutely complex than one would like them to be and the consequences actually can be contradictory. It is a lot easier to make a decision when it seems that with your conclusion all will live happily everafter and the results will all be positive. That, however, is not life. We often have to make decisions by weighing the positives and the negatives, recognizing that both will occur. To be alive is to make decisions without surety.

Robert Frost said that courage is "to act on limited knowledge and insufficient evidence. That's all any of us have." To do otherwise is an over-extension of ego and the result is hate. Doubt reminds us of this reality and demands of us to constantly recognize that even as we still may remain steadfast in the reasoned conclusions that we have reached and do reach, we must also always be open to new perspectives as we recognize our own weaknesses.

The Talmud in various locations presents as a mark of scholarship not the ability to defend one's arguments but, rather, the ability to present the argument with which you disagree. It is only then, when you recognize the variance of opinions and the difficulty of any decision, that you can trust that your views are not solely motivated by ego. To do otherwise is to define oneself as a god -- and the result is unbridled hate.

 

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