I’ve been into Rene Decartes lately, the “I think therefore I am” philosopher. Back in college, I cursed him for the part he played in calculus. I cursed him again in medical school for the part he played in the mind-body separation. But finally, I’m warming up to him. He doubted everything that was, and everything he thought. And he did it intentionally, to find out what was true. (google Cartesian doubt) Even though it nearly drove him crazy, doubt was one of his greatest tools. He used it to wreck his house and build a new and stronger foundation.
He’s my doubt-idol, I think of him when I’m full of doubt, which happens from time to time. OK, a lot these days. I’m familiar with two kinds of doubt – professional and personal.
In your profession you serve some population - they’re your clients, patients, beneficiaries, customers, students or whoever. For me it’s a group of families in rural Nepal. If the whole point is to be of service to your population, then it’s a bit easier because it’s not so much about you. You can ask, “Am I truly serving them?” and if yes, “Am I doing it in the best way I know how?” It’s not always easy or straightforward, but we’ve really just got to respond to those questions accordingly and I think we’ll all be on track to rewarding careers. My professional doubt has led me in some unexpected places recently, but they’ve usually been good places if the answer to that question is still yes. Sometimes it’s more like “yes, I think so”, but that’s close enough for me!
Personal doubt can be harder to handle. Maybe it’s just me, but the personal world seems infinitely more complex than the professional. Doubt can mean many things to many people, so I want to be clear that I’m not talking about that nagging insecurity we’re all susceptible to (“Am I good enough?”) I’m talking about Decartes’ style of doubt, an evaluation of truth. You can ask “Is this belief really true?” An example: I used to think that people who looked very different from me must be very different from me. In India, I remember watching a sadhu (Hindu holy men often dreaded, naked, and covered in ash) and thinking of how I must have nothing in common with him. I was afraid to talk to him. I asked myself “Is that really true? What if it wasn’t?” I gathered my courage, walked up to his tent, and he waved me in. We spent so many hours together laughing and trying to chat and just being silly. I didn’t even know that belief was holding me back until it was shattered, and I’m so glad for it. Now that’s a fun example, but sometimes this line of questioning leads to dark and scary places, or any number of rabbit holes, so keep your feet on the ground and watch your step.
It may be obvious from this blog that ParticipAid is in a kind of transition now. And because Decartes is my doubt-idol, it probably always will be in some state of change. It feels we’re in a bit of a house wrecking stage now, but I think I’m starting to see the foundation. Good luck to all of my fellow doubt-filled truth seekers out there!