Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.

Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt. – Clarence Darrow

What do you mean, where have I been?

Why I’ve been out with the guys, dear. What do you mean, you doubt that?

What does that mean?
Imagine a situation where children don’t ever doubt an adult. All is well, until that adult is a predator, right? Yes, there are times when a child should listen without question or doubt to what an adult says, but only certain adults.

But far more important, what will happen to a child who was raised to never consider what was said, to never doubt or question what they are told, when they grow up? When and how will they acquire these critical skills?

Without them, they will be fleeced by anyone and everyone with fewer scruples. They will believe the most outrageous lies. They will be taken in by any and every story of woe told to them. They will be unable to properly sort out fact from fiction, and this will lead them into all kinds of trouble.

Why is doubt important?  
In the first section, we considered the tragedy of one individual, and the difficulties they will face throughout the rest of their life. Now let us consider what would happen when we go from child to children, from just one child to many children.

What would happen to that town, that city, that region, or that country? How would they prevent others from taking advantage of them? How long would it take less honest people to notice these people and take advantage of them? And what about the politicians, how long would it take for them to do the same?

Most of us have grown up in an era where Science is King. People in lab coats are not to be doubted, because they’re smart. Yet there are those who regularly take advantage of our trust in them, in our lack of doubt. From Cold Fusion to advanced cloning techniques, they are out there and ready to take advantage of your trust.

Where can I apply this in my life?
There was a Russian saying which was popular during the 1980’s Cold War era and the reduction of arms, which translates roughly to “Trust, but Verify.” That is applicable to pretty much all of our lives, with the exception of those we trust completely.

For some, that list will be quite long, for others, it will be quite short. It may vary based on the topic, as well. For those with kids, do you trust the answer of “No, I don’t have any homework” on a nice spring day, with a group of their friends waiting on the porch? Or would there be a little doubt?

Getting back to children, regularly doubting them probably isn’t the lesson you want to teach them, right? Instead, have you challenged them to find the answers themselves, or at least verify some of what you have said? To me, that would be a good thing.

There is a difference between a healthy skepticism and belligerent dismissal. Both can be labeled “doubt” albeit extreme cases. Trying to guide the children towards the former rather than the latter is, I believe, the point of this quote.

You can also ask for their sources when they tell you something. That way, you are verifying and being doubtful, but not in a confrontational manner (at least not if you do it with some tact). This tactic is one that they can learn to work with, and eventually, make their own.

Similarly, there are few places where the techniques of cautious doubt, or verification, are not applicable. Matters of faith and trust are touchy subjects, but can be handled with tact. Just be careful, as what you think is a simple question can be misinterpreted by others.

Doubt has a place in our lives, and in our discourse. It is not the opposite of trust, but a light which can be used to confirm trust, or to show it was a sham from the beginning. Without a little doubt, without a little verification, life is going to be tough.

Whether it is what your teen was doing out late last night, or where your significant other was late last night, some questions are going to be harder to ask than others. While trust has its place in our lives, so does doubt. Do you doubt me? See what I did there?

Doubt is useful, when used properly and with tact. No one wants an interrogation, but letting everything slide won’t be any better.

From: Twitter, @QuoteLeadership
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/clarenceda154026.html
Photo by Beverly & Pack

Happy Birthday to Clarence Darrow, born 18 April, 1857.

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2 Responses to Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.

  1. wandersage 18 April 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    some cool ideas, but I think the value of doubt goes way beyond what you’ve explored here. It is more than simply a a method to keep us safe, our safety is perhaps the most superficial capacity of doubt. Doubt as security system seems to imply that knowledge itself is simply a method for staying safe, it’s the activists credo after all that we “stay informed!” so that we do not become the ever dreaded sheeple of blind faith in a cause, a person, religious following, etc. But knowledge, which is the outcome of doubt, involves far more than security, it is vital in art, poetry, fiction, religion, God, or no God, it is fundamental to our very perception of the world, how we interact with it, how we find love, happiness, how we experience pain and sadness, or even how we walk, how we talk, every minute intention from the highest most profound understandings of the cosmos and our place in it, to the smallest movements of your body find their seed in a doubting mind.

    Consider this. A child learns in kindergarten that another name for water is H2O, at that age most likely that knowledge will end there and all that kid will have learned is a synonym for water. later on in life though as he has learned other words and concepts he will be told that the H in H2O stands for hydrogen and the O for oxygen, and that there are 2 atoms of hydrogen attached to one atom of oxygen and that’s what water is made of. In the first instance we can imagine that there was no doubt, the child was simply remembering and accepting what his teacher said, in the second instance though imagine that the child having realized that the knowledge of H2O goes deeper than he thought will then start to explore more, he will have doubt about the finality of the statement about the atoms. He might start researching the principles of atoms, learning about subatomic particles, electrons and protons, all the while doubting that everything he learns is as concrete and final as it appears to be. This doubt could carry him through a lifetime, to studying chemistry in graduate school, learning about the fundamental nature of particles, going beyond the books and teachers, exploring never before answered questions about physics and yet still maintaining a sense of doubt about everything he learns. In the end doubt expands a person who practices it beyond simply not believing what someone has to say, to the vast understanding of the unworkability of all things in the universe, and this is the real terror, that doubt does not make us safer in an emotional sense, it actually merely exposes us in each instance of it’s practice to an ever broadening scope of questions that we will never have an answer to.

    What is the nature of the universe? what is the nature of water even? it’s H2O, then it’s 3 atoms in a dance, then it’s subatomic particles held together by complex forces, then it’s bands of energy vibrating at different frequencies and then what? There can’t possibly be an end to such questions and yet there is an end to our ability to answer them. At this point we are touching the vast mystery of things and it can be terrifying if you are the person on the forefront of such incredible doubt, to know there cannot be an answer,

    but as vital to the expansion of knowledge as doubt, is the necessary element of faith. It’s not blind faith, but a sense of trust in unknowable questions. The ability to rest in the unknown and the unknowable, this is where true knowledge comes from, The doubt allows us to know that what we are told, even the things that we have discovered ourselves, are insufficient, but faith allows us to rest in that endless unknowing and be comfortable their as we continue to grow and learn.

    Many people are afraid to doubt because they are recoil from that unknowability that is inherent to the universe, it is much safer and easier to simply believe what they are told. They will never go beyond “H2O is another name for water” because that is what’s safe, they won’t question their teachers and develop a personal knowledge of concepts, they will gladly stay in a stable predictable definable nameable understandable conservative world. But if you are a scientist who has faith enough to rest in the fact that there will never be an end to the questions, so that you can doubt not only the answers given by other people, but even the answers you have given yourself, that what we “know” will always be incomplete and the more we learn the more we will discover our own inferiority, only then can you make any progress in new understanding .

    this is the same way in which people of faith expand their understandings of God. You start as a kid imagining God as a happy bearded man in the sky, then as you doubt and doubt and doubt, all the time resting in a deep faith, then the concept expands, grows, becomes more complex and more subtle. The ability to question your beliefs is the very essence of the ability to learn about them. When Mother Teresa’s journal was published a while ago it was noted how much she wrote about doubt, how much she questions her church and her beliefs on a regular basis, it is that very act of doubting that allowed her to grow beyond simply being a nun to a world changing individual. And the funny thing is people of faith who have questioned that faith their entire lives without letting go of it, seem to come to the same conclusion as scientists who have questioned their field all theirs lives without letting go of it, that in the end the nature of the universe, or the nature of God is ultimately unknowable and the best any of us can do is to rest with the question itself, explore it to infinity knowing that we will never arrive at an answer.

    • philosiblog 19 April 2013 at 3:46 am #

      That is probably both the longest and most compelling comment I have had to date. Thanks for your input. I believe your comment is even longer than my post!

      That’s the problem with a blog and philosophy as the topic. Even a superficial covering of one particular aspect of a saying can take a thousand words. Something more in depth, like your comment, could go on for hundreds or even thousands more words.

      Great insight on doubt, and it’s additional usefulness in other aspects of our lives. There is little else for me to add but my thanks.

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