Is there something you inherently mistrust about information? Or have a need to double check it before accepting it?
I was recently asked this question by a friend. They joked about little, baby Brice getting confused and frustrated during peekaboo and deciding I don’t trust information anymore. I wasn’t quite that aware as a baby, but the question got me thinking: why do I have this need for more and more information? Why does it never seem like enough? Do I actually mistrust information, in general?
The motivation for the question is multi-faceted, but if you’re familiar with the Enneagram, it might help to say I harbor at a Five. If you’re not familiar with that, in a nutshell, it’s normal for me to want lots of data/information about something before I make decisions. Even then, I tend to use non-committal language to leave room for uncertainty. If you’ve read my other posts, you may have noticed this in my writing, and you’ll probably notice it in this post.
As with most things, there are pros and cons to operating this way. One of the challenges is that I can sometimes be paralyzed by a lack of sufficient information. It’s hard for me to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, yet I’m compelled to leave room for uncertainty. That can become a vicious circle.
This is essentially what my friend was asking about; what’s the source of my hesitation? Do I need more information because I find something inherently untrustworthy about it? Am I merely cautious in my approach to information? Will more corroborating information boost my overall trust of it? Is it an issue of source credibility? Or, is it something else entirely?
The short answer is this: I don’t think it was ever about the information, itself; I think it’s me. I’ve distrusted myself and am wary of my ability to quickly and accurately interpret information. I don’t think that’s a natural part of who I am. I think the process was this: I learned to distrust myself, started to heal and mistrust myself, and am learning to trust myself. That’s what I’m exploring, here, and I’m hoping that it’ll be helpful for someone who may be struggling with self-trust the way I have.
I’m not a psychologist or a self-help guru. I’m not certified or trained or educated in exploring these things, and no matter what I say or how much I believe it, none of these posts can diagnose your life. I consider myself a philosophical theologian, and while I don’t take that lightly, it’s important to me to be clear about this: this post is an invitation for you to journey with me not an ending point or a solution. It’s an invitation to uncover our lives so that we can start asking questions about who we are. It’s a challenge to look at ourselves a little bit differently than we usually do and see what happens.
Careful Consideration vs. Distrust
Careful consideration and distrust aren’t the same thing, but I think they can be easily confused when we fail to trust ourselves.
This is important! I think that I’m hardwired, in my brain, to want more and more information about things. I don’t want to make decisions quickly. I don’t want to be able to “do more with less” when it comes to data, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m going to call this “careful consideration.” I want to be thoughtful about — to give careful consideration to — as much information as I can.
Does that mean I obsess about gathering as much information as possible? Not necessarily. If the information isn’t there and I don’t feel like finding it, I might just not make a decision about something. I might just say, “I don’t know what I think about that,” or, “I don’t have an opinion on that.” Sometimes, things just don’t matter to me, but when they do matter, I like to engage in careful consideration. That’s not me being inherently distrustful of myself; I think that’s how my brain is wired. Call it a personality or a disposition or a psychological preference; whatever it is, it’s the part of me that somehow got tangled up and turned into distrust.
That part of me isn’t inherently about eliminating uncertainty. It may even be that the careful consideration part of me thrives in the possibilities revealed in uncertainty! I want more information precisely because there are so many possibilities, and the more I learn to embrace and practice creativity — the more I learn to nurture my imagination — the more free I feel to be carefully considerate of all of reality. So, where does distrust come in?
I think I’ve been taught that I’m not trustworthy, and when I started believing it, the careful consideration part of me got hijacked. It somehow became captive to the shame of my untrustworthiness so that I couldn’t embrace it. The shame of being untrustworthy fueled an obsessive need to be right; it made uncertainty into something shameful. That’s a big part of what I’ve had to overcome; I’m learning to be anti-shame. Specifically, I’m learning to combat the shame of uncertainty. Embracing uncertainty, or even just accepting uncertainty, has meant re-learning to be creative, imaginative, curious, and humble.
I want to reflect more on those things, but first, I want to consider more about how I was taught to distrust myself, because I’m realizing that I’ve been unlearning those teachings for some time without realizing it.
Can I Be Trusted?
Growing up, I was taught the answer was no. In at least two places, I was taught to distrust myself, and they’re two places that I think should be teaching the opposite: church and school.
People spend years talking with therapists to unpack their lives, so doing this on the fly could get messy, but here’s what I’ve realized, so far.
My interpretations of scripture and my understandings of God were wrong.
Growing up in fundamentalist Christian circles, the emphasis was always on rightness, and the “right” answers were never varied. The Bible was a textbook, instruction manual, or blueprint, and any deviation from the status quo was a deviation from that Godly blueprint. After all, if a builder deviates from the blueprints, the end result will be inherently wrong; you didn’t build what you were instructed to build. You don’t get to make something three inches instead of four just because you feel like it, and you don’t get to “interpret” God differently just because you “imagine” him differently.
We’re talking about Biblical inerrancy in its strictest sense. We’re talking legalistic, patriarchal, highly conservative, non-denominational, protestant Christianity. No instruments, no women in leadership, lecture-style Bible studies, and the same worship order in every congregation. White Evangelicalism, Christian Nationalism, predeterminism, traditional omniscience, etc. — whatever labels help you understand where I’m coming from.
I was never told, outright, that I can’t trust myself, but when you’re told consistently that your questions about God, scripture, worship, relationships, and cultures are evidence of your lack of faith, understanding, and sound doctrine (your lack of “rightness”), you learn that there’s something inherently flawed in your perception of the world and your ability to interpret information.
On top of that, because the Bible was something flat and sterile (i.e. a textbook or instruction manual) bringing creativity and imagination to it was considered dangerous. Again, this wasn’t explicitly stated; no one was saying, “Creativity is bad/evil/wrong.” But, when your alternate imagination of something in scripture is continually labeled “a slippery slope” (which was considered a bad thing), you pick up on that. My ideas were invalid, not because they weren’t logical but because they were actually temptations (the slippery slope) enticing me away from God.
This is that shame of uncertainty, shame of imagination/creativity, lack of faith, etc. “You have to trust God’s word.” Or, “I know it doesn’t seem like it makes sense, but that’s because you don’t understand what God is doing.” Peter Enns comes at it from another direction and calls it the sin of certainty (a recommended read if you’re working your way out of that kind of thinking).
Since I’m hardwired for curiosity in uncertainty — hardwired for creative imagination about possibilities — accepting the idea that uncertainty is shameful makes me inherently shameful.
If uncertainty is shameful, how can I not be shameful when my natural inclinations are rooted in uncertainty?
Insert whatever other aspect becomes stifled. If creative imagination about God is temptation, my creativity and imagination are at least tempting me to evil if not inherently evil, themselves. If doubting and questioning indicate a lack of faith, embracing a desire for more information is embracing faithlessness, and so on. Well, if my right eye causes me to sin… Cue the shame.
I think this is part of how not trusting myself hijacked that hardwiring. My natural inclination became something inherently untrustworthy, and maybe I dealt with that by making it subservient to my quest for rightness. I couldn’t eradicate it; it’s part of me, but I could pretend that it was a product of my righteous desire for “truth.” That way of thinking was probably exacerbated by teachings about original sin and the fallen state of man. “Of course your natural inclination is evil; humans have original sin.”
I could go on, but I hope the point is made: my desire for information and my curiosity, creativity, and imagination, were pulled into a narrative of shame and distrust. I think this is essentially what happened in school, as well.
School had similar expectations of rightness, which doesn’t surprise me since Christendom has influenced all of American society. It’s probably not solely responsible for where we are as a nation, but it certainly hasn’t helped.
I had some good teachers in grade school, but many of them were just as much a product of the system as the rest of us. “There are no stupid questions” sounds good, but in practice, there were lots of stupid questions. Classmates were sometimes a little too eager to highlight that, and many teachers weren’t going out of their way to shut down ridicule. There were also stupid answers, apparently. The risk of raising one’s hand without being certain of the answer was often not worth it.
Such environments reinforced what I was learning implicitly from church: rightness is king, and uncertainty is shameful.
There were exceptions, but none that I fit into. For example: a person could deflect from their lack of rightness by being overly confident. I saw the most popular kids as the ones who were so confident in themselves that everyone ignored all the wrong things coming out of their mouths. As with other things, those exceptions only compounded my own shame. They emphasized how much my uncertainty and creativity were a hinderance, not a boon.
My way of approaching the world was so shameful that it was less acceptable to society than confident wrongness. Students taught that to me, and teachers didn’t refute it. When the most praise given is always directed at the kids getting things right and the most popularity is always directed at the most confident kids, where does that leave me?
But Wait… There’s More!
All of this might sound pretty bad. Ok, all of this is pretty bad, and frankly, if you have kids and they’re growing up in anything like what I’ve described, please change that. However, my own story doesn’t end there. As I mentioned above, I learned to distrust myself, but then I learned to mistrust myself, and now I’m learning to trust myself.
This series is going to explore all of that. How am I differentiating between distrust and mistrust? How can embracing creativity and imagination combat the shame of certainty? How did I start embracing those things? How is that helping me disentangle my shame from how I’m hardwired, and how does that help me trust myself? Come and discover with me.
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