Doubt has a negative connotation; it is often associated with fear or dread. However, the origin of the word in Latin (dubitare) does not carry the same ominous weight. Dubitare meant to question, hesitate, or to consider the choice between two things. It wasn’t until the early 13thcentury that doubt began to indicate fear. I believe we have hindered ourselves by making doubt something that is always scary and something to be avoided or unacknowledged. Doubt is part of any serious decision making process.
It is weighing of choices, considering the full impact of each option. Doubt can allow for an open mind, versus the alternative of absolute certainty that leaves little room for other options or opinions. Often we grapple with doubt because it denies an absolute truth and leaves us in an unstable, and possibly unsure, place. We have difficulty sitting with instability – and when doubt becomes overwhelming, that instability becomes intolerable. This passive doubt can be crippling, and is often associated with the assumption that there is an absolute truth or “right answer” that must be chosen. As there is rarely a situation with a single correct answer, this is impossible, and this doubt becomes immobilizing.
But I am advocating for a second kind of doubt; a healthy, active doubt where there is consideration of choices, the ability to have an open mind, and the willingness to live with the possibility of making mistakes. Though you may be wrong, you will have considered all the options and made your best guess. It acknowledges that there is no perfect choice, no single right answer, which can be difficult for those of us who strive for perfection. Doubt is the opposition to impulse; it is the consideration of impact and consequences and a sign of thoughtfulness.
By Kelly George, LCPC