Challenging One’s Own Convictions

“A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions. Rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions,” Nietzsche

In order to have the courage to attack one’s convictions, one needs the courage of uninhibited self-criticism. Such courage is hard to come by. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3. Giving advice is popular; taking advice not so popular. “We believe to be true what we want to be true,” Demosthenes. What we believe is what we want to believe, so we don’t want to be told it is not true. This is because if what we believe is not true, we need to change what we do. Believing is seeing and seeing is doing.

Expecting someone to change reminds me of the famous “change question:” how many counselors does it take to change a light bulb? It only takes one, but the light bulb has to want to change.” Herein lies the problem: you can’t really expect someone to change unless they want to change. “Change is good. You go first.” Dilbert/Scot Adams.

Changing what one does usually means changing one’s mind. To change one’s mind requires challenging one’s own convictions. Although we are good at challenging what other people believe and do, we are not so good at challenging what we believe and do. We can easily pay no attention to the plank in our own eye. Such attention would require self-criticism. But we don’t have a “built-in crap detector.”

“Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down,” Ernest Hemingway (1954)

Without such a detector, or someone who knows you and can be honest, criticism of what you believe and say is usually missing. Relying on oneself may not be wise. Notice: uninhibited is defined as “expressing one’s feelings or thoughts unselfconsciously and without restraint.” This seems unlikely. 

Having the courage to “attack one’s convictions” is not built-in to the human process of decision making. To say a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside would be helpful is putting it mildly. Putting it not so mildly is to say that decision makers need something to avoid subjective bias. This has been the theme of my writing for years. 

Positive Uncertainty: having this courage to challenge requires knowing what you know for sure may not be true. “It’s what you know for sure that gets you in trouble,” Mark Twain.  Having a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside one would certainly help human decision making. It should be pointed out that a built-in automatic crap detector would definitely help decision makers. But that would require uninhibited self-criticism, which isn’t built -in. 

In fact, a significant cognitive bias — confirmation bias — is defined as: “looking for information to confirm or validate unwise decisions”

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  1. Marianne Fontana says:

    Self examination is always difficult. Especially when we have lived so many years.
    Mainly I wanted to touch base with you to see how you are and how your Christmas was.
    Al and I tested positive for the Covid virus a week ago. We have a mild case but it is still not fun to have. We are quarantined in our apt until a week from today.
    I wanted you to know and to say we miss meeting with you so much. Too much time has passed and will until we see you again.
    Thank goodness we have new leadership coming!

    • hbgelatt says:

      Marianne and Al

      We had a nice Christmas, just the two of us. Carol and I both got sweaters as gifts. Sorry to hear abut the virus. How long does a mild case last? Actually we spend most of the time inside our house.

      It will be a new wold without Trump. But will he ever go away?

      H B


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