Question Everything

The title of this post constitutes advice to myself. It’s an admonition that I too often fail to follow. But I take the exhortation seriously, because rooting about for answers about even “certainties” can rapidly lead to knowledge and, ultimately, wisdom.

The best way to start is to question yourself. Explore your own opinions, beliefs, and biases. Make arguments in opposition to your positions, seeking out the strongest challenges to your thinking that you can find.  Look, inside yourself, for faulty logic in support of your thinking; if you find it, remove and see if the superstructure supporting your beliefs collapses. And, then, replace that logic with something stronger, if you can find it.

Ask yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, too. Are your strengths hiding weaknesses beneath them? Do your weaknesses really reveal flaws or have you simply viewed certain of your attributes with a jaundiced eye?

It pays to remind myself to question everything from time to time. Otherwise, I can fall into the trap of accepting my own opinions as fact and my beliefs as reality. When I remind myself of those failings, I tend to more readily question what I hear from others, whether people I know, strangers, or the news media.

The impetus for this post arose from my reaction to an article I read in which the author argued that most proponents of universal healthcare coverage under a single-payer system do not understand how such a system would operate and, moreover, do not understand how much it would cost. My reaction was negative. My immediate response was to dismiss his comments as the words of someone who opposes universal healthcare, which he does. But I then asked myself what I know about the mechanics of a single payer system and how much it might cost. My answers: not much and I don’t know. That didn’t change my belief in the rectitude of universal healthcare, but it did remind me that I need to do more research to better understand what would be involved with bringing the idea to fruition.

I could write about dozens of instances in which I came head-to-head with circumstances that reminded me that I sometimes allow my opinions to be driven by emotion rather than intellect. There’s nothing inherently wrong in that, but it behooves me to understand that and to look for facts to support the legitimacy of my opinions.

Every time I question myself, I find chinks in my intellectual armor. And I realize I need to apply the same process to others’ beliefs and opinions and statements of “fact” that turn out to be less factual than fanciful. Question everything.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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