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Tiffany Matthé

To Be or Not to Be Certain

Learn2 min read

Should we live life with absolute conviction?

I have always struggled with the concept of conviction. I didn't have a strong opinion on every topic growing up, and other people seemed incredulous that I wasn't for or against one particular side. During structured in-class debates, I found myself questioning my position as I listened to the other side's arguments. I sometimes thought it was best to not listen to the other side, lest I get convinced and unable to offer arguments against them.

Was I weak of mind? Spineless? Easily persuaded? Someone who couldn't hold their ground?

Conviction is a messy fellow. Living life with absolute conviction is portrayed as the better option, one where we are as confident as Sherlock Holmes about the origin of some mysterious smell in a room or about the next course of action.

Living life without conviction, on the other hand, is a slippery slope. These are the weak side characters of a movie, those who are convinced by villains to help them with their evil doings, those who get caught doing the wrong thing: the ones without morals.

And so I strived to be certain, even when I was far from it. My brain banished any inklings of doubt that weaseled into my mind. I was confident. I knew what to do.

In hindsight, this was dangerous. Acting with certainty when you are not is misleading and damaging. You fool yourself and others about things that might be wrong. You shy away from the opportunity of listening and learning. Acting with conviction does not mean you are right. And that's hard to admit. We all want to feel like the main character of a story, and the main character never wavers in their beliefs.

We have to remind ourselves that the main character of a story is just that: a character in a story. It's a story crafted by an author who molds the future for their character, ensuring that their pride and joy ends up successful and absolved. In real life, nothing is that certain.

And that's okay. If you are not certain, listening and considering information from all sides is the best thing you can do. You might risk being convinced to join an occult cult, but you also have the opportunity to choose great opportunities.

Note that uncertainty does not mean you are a fickle flip-flopper, nor does it mean you are passively strung along by others. Being uncertain to be more open-minded is different from being uncertain to switch sides when it pleases you or being uncertain to avoid putting in the effort to think critically.

There is value in both conviction and uncertainty. Conviction enables great change and progress. It moves nations and people; it spearheads movements and ideas. Conviction's oft-forgotten initial form, uncertainty, is critical to discover what changes to pursue and what progress to make.

Be without conviction until you find something worth being certain about.

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