By Rachel Puryear
Mathematician Bertrand Russell is quoted as saying that “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people are so full of doubts.”
That quote resonates with me a great deal, and I believe it largely true.
So the question it raises is, why are highly and intelligent and empathic people, those who have a great deal to offer to the world; so unsure of themselves, so doubting, and with confidence coming so unnaturally?
Especially, while those low in empathy or intellect often rarely question their own righteousness, are arrogantly sure they know all the answers, blissfully unfamiliar with the anxieties of deep uncertainty?
Well, I don’t have all the answers – but here are a few thoughts on why that counterintuitive disparity might exist:
There’s plenty of ego to go around in this world. Nonetheless, people who are empathic, or highly intelligent, probably tend to have less of it rather than more. That’s contrary to popular belief, and the frequent assumption that people with great gifts are typically egotistical because of them.
Humility lends itself to doubt much more than ego does. A big ego gets in the way of questioning oneself, of considering that one might be wrong or not have all the answers, or recognizing the contributions of others.
Humility is a big reason why highly intelligent and empathic people tend to doubt themselves.
Ability to Think of Multiple Possibilities
Empathic and highly intelligent people sometimes have a harder time than others giving a straight answer to a complex and difficult question.
That’s not because they are less able to understand issues, or analyze the question, though. It’s also not because they are trying to confuse the asker, or dodge the question.
They readily think of multiple angles to difficult questions, and therefore give accordingly complex – or even multi-sided, and seemingly contradictory – answers.
Because of this capability, they tend to appreciate the complexity and depth of difficult matters, and they might need more time to think about and formulate their answer – if they do even decide upon an answer at all.
The ability to see multiple answers to difficult questions, and consider many angles and competing considerations; naturally gives rise to doubt.
Awareness Beyond Their Tiny Corner
Highly intelligent and empathic people are typically curious, and like to take it upon themselves to learn about lots of different subjects. Therefore, they tend to know more about the world than just what’s going on in their tiny corner of the world, and what they need to know for their own basic survival.
If they have the means and ability, they also usually love to travel.
Thanks to learning about more than just what’s in front of them, they tend to readily understand that not only is there a lot they still don’t know, but there’s also a lot that they don’t know they don’t know.
This lends itself to being prone to doubt, and realizing that there is more to lots of things in the world than might immediately meet the senses.
Strong Analysis, Minds That Keep on Thinking
Highly intelligent and empathic minds tend to keep analyzing things long after the fact. Often, they will learn or hear an idea, and reach more fully developed thoughts and follow-up ideas of their own about it later.
It’s a reason why they tend to need more time to think things through than others, why they like to take breaks while reading or watching something – so they can have time to think, and one of multiple reasons why they need down time – and don’t do well with constantly being busy and overworked over the long run.
This factor also gives rise to more doubts. Highly intelligent and empathic people will come up with more doubts, more complexities will occur to them and give them more of a sense of depth to subjects, and they therefore tend to realize that many things in this world are not nearly so simple and straightforward and cut-and-dry as they might initially seem.
People have a strong natural tendency to listen to and believe those who are highly confident, and to doubt those who are less so. So for people with lots of self-doubt, not only do they tend to doubt themselves, but other people may tend to doubt them, as well.
However, this is a habit that anyone can work on. When someone doesn’t speak very much, or seems uncertain a lot when they do speak, make a point of listening to them. They have likely given a lot of thought behind their words.
Furthermore, where you doubt yourself, consider what you have read here. Indeed, you or anyone else might correctly doubt yourself/themselves at times – but self-doubt is a good sign, as it reflects deeper thinking and a willingness to self-examine. Even if you/they aren’t right about everything (and neither will anyone be), you/they will probably come up with a lot of original and insightful ideas.
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