Jesus once taught, “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him.” (Matthew 5:25) How can two people that are both 100% certain of their opposing views come to agree with one another? It feels like an impossible scenario. Does one need to lie about their position? What if instead, you could honestly see the situation from the other’s perspective? What if you could admit, no matter how slight you considered the possibility, that your adversary might be right and you might be wrong? Without lying or changing your opinion, you could tell the other that you have thought about it and that you understand their position. You could tell them that they might in fact be correct and that you are sorry for arguing with them. Wouldn’t that kind of response cool down most contentious arguments?
At a later point, when both you and your opponent had calmed down, you could broach the topic again from a place of relative uncertainty. Admitting that you might be wrong, share your reasons for thinking the things you do and try to understand theirs, honestly accepting the possibility that they might be right in the end. So long as you and your opponent are willing to admit the possibility of being wrong, the truth, if either of you actually have it, is more likely to come to light and to be agreed upon. If one of the contenders insists upon their view from a position of absolute certainty, they are unlikely to be able to turn the other around to their way of thinking. Contention grows.
The first uncertainty is the recognition and acceptance of the fact that you can be wrong. You are not infallible. When we say we “know” something, we mean that we are relatively certain that something is true. It cannot actually be 100% certainty. That makes no sense unless you are something quite a bit more than human. If we really want to say that we are 100 percent sure of something, what we have really done is made a choice. But why?
What is the advantage of 100% certainty over 99% certainty? In my opinion, there is none. 100% certainty is a wall with neither a door nor window. It is a fortress without a drawbridge and a moat full of hungry alligators. There is no getting in or out, and if you are wrong about the thing you have chosen to be 100% certain about, you will be wrong forever. And if you are right? Well, enjoy your life in your lofty tower. It does not entice me.
99% certainty, on the other hand, is a window to the outside world. It is a door that allows for changes to occur. New ideas can be tested against old ideas. You believe you know the truth of a matter, but you can look at another perspective and consider it anyway. Though slight, you believe it is possible that you have made an error at some point. There is value in considering other possibilities. If you are right in your belief, it is unlikely that you will change your mind to a less correct position. And if you do happen to change your mind and believe something else for a while, you can return and perhaps even bring others with you. Truth spreads. If you are wrong in your belief, 99% certainty allows the possibility of one day discovering your error. Hope remains.
So, why then do so many people choose to cast all doubt from them? Why would anyone choose absolute certainty over allowing themselves the more humble position of potentially being wrong? In my estimation, pride and fear seem to be the most likely culprits, and especially fear. What if I’m wrong? How terrible that would be! It’s better not to think consider the possibility. I’m right. Definitely right. I have no doubts. We invest so much of our selves in our beliefs that even the possibility that we are wrong can be devastating. What if there’s no heaven? What if there’s no God? What if you believe in a false religion? What if your family doesn’t really love you? What if you are a simulation running on a futuristic computer on an alien world? What if…? And the list goes on and on forever.
Well, I say so what? At the moment I tend to believe in God at a pretty high level of certainty, but it’s not a hundred percent. Why should I fear the truth, whatever it is? As I wrote just a short while ago, the truth is irrelevant. At this point in my life, I choose to believe in God. Because I lack 100% certainty though, I can have true empathy for the atheist viewpoint. I can see through their eyes and consider the fact that they may be right. I understand that I might be wrong about anything in my life. I consider all of the evidence available to me and make the best choices I can with all of the tools available to me. Hopefully, I’m not making too many mistakes, or at least not any that will harm myself or others in any long-lasting or significant way.
The first uncertainty is the path of humility because awareness and recognition of our own fallibility is a constant check on rampant pride. I know of no better way to keep negative judgmental pride under control than by living according to the first uncertainty.
The first uncertainty is also a path of courage because in order to follow it, you must let go of your fears. Are the things you believe true or aren’t they? Do you really want to know? Then open the window. Open a door. Come down out of your lofty tower and test your beliefs again and again. They may hold or they may shatter. Are you willing to take the chance?
Don’t worry too much though. Even if a belief shatters, don’t let go of it 100%. The first uncertainty works in both directions. The belief turned out not to be true in the way you had hoped or the way you had believed, but it may yet be true. You can’t know 100% that something is not true. And if you can ever come to believe in it again, perhaps by way of one of the other 3 uncertainties, the new reformed belief will be stronger and more effective than the one that shattered.
The 1st Uncertainty in a Nutshell – No matter what it is, you could be wrong, so let go of your pride and be brave enough to face the possibilities.