The notion that intentionally monitoring and decreasing one’s judgmental thinking increases one’s happiness fits well with a few other beliefs that I hold. I believe that early in life we develop what I call a default yes/no setting. I call it that because we regularly engage it entirely out of our conscious awareness – we just do it like flicking on a light switch. We evaluate our ongoing experience of being parented and cared for and before the age of five conclude either that new experience, new people, new situations are generally threatening ad we should be careful until we are sure that we’ll be safe or that new experience, new people, new situations are intriguing and we should move forward and explore them. Either “life is threatening, be careful” or “life is exciting, explore it”.
The ‘be careful’ becomes a default no at least at least until one is sure that one is safe, and the ‘explore life’ becomes a yes at least until something genuinely threatening enters the experience. I believe the development of this default yes/no setting has a huge ongoing impact on or character, our personality, and how we play out our life as adults. I suspect it is the primary ingredient in determining whether one becomes essentially a conservative or a liberal in one’s outlook on and response to life. Are we more ‘WOW this might be good’ or more ‘WHOA, this might be bad’? Am I more yes until you can provide me with meaningful evidence that I should be no, or am I more no until you can provide convincing evidence that I should be yes. So the question to ask yourself is “what’s your default setting?” Are you more yes or more no?
I also believe that we can help ourselves and/or others to disengage our yes or no default settings by consciously employing the doubter/believer stance – a concept I learned from reading Peter Elbow. It operates as follows:
In any situation where you are looking for the truth, making a decision, or assessing new data, there are two basic stances you can take: the Doubting Stance or the Believing Stance.
The doubting stance seeks truth by indirection: (this is default no thinking)
- – by seeking error. (Doubting an assertion or idea is the best way to find the error in it.)
- – by assuming the assertion is untrue so as to find its weaknesses.
- – by putting on a negative filter and sorting all data only for what won’t work.
- – by using an adversarial method, think of ways to attack the assertion.
- – by being against, apart from the idea or assertion.
The believing stance also seeks truth by indirection: (this is default yes thinking)
- – by refraining from doubting assertions or ideas.
- – by putting other ideas out of your head and trying this one on.
- – by putting on a positive filter and sorting all data for the truth in it.
- – by trying the idea on as though you believed it. (Not the fullest sort of belief which is commitment and action, but the belief that involves trying to see things as the speaker sees them.)
- – by being with rather than apart from the idea or assertion.
The doubting stance has a monopoly on legitimacy in our culture, it is the most common default setting.
- – Socrates, Descartes;
- – propositional logic;
- – the scientific method;
- – ‘rational’ thought process;
- – “be realistic”;
- – question everything you hear;
- – the way to proceed to truth is to doubt everything and what is finally immune from attack must be true.
Doubting stance traits include
- – extrication
- – disengagement
- – detachment
- – rigidity
- – closing up
- – toughness
- – hardness
- – aggressiveness
- – competitiveness
- – adversarial desire to talk and correct.
The results of only doubting lead from doubt to skepticism to cynicism.
Believing stance traits include
- – involvement
- – commitment
- – softness
- – opening up
- – flexibility
- – cooperating
- – supporting
- – adaptability
- – listening.
The believing stance permits one to explore and discover the value of an idea, and often to adapt it or modify it to fit the needs of the situation. One of the most difficult aspects of taking the believing stance is fighting the itch for closure which the stance may create. The results of only believing lead from interest to enthusiasm to gullible naiveté.
Both stances are powerful and important ways of getting to the truth or the best decision. We need both. We also need to know when we are using which stance and why we are using it at that point in the process of coming to a conclusion.
Using the doubting stance first leads to negativity, mistrust and withdrawal. The values of an idea are never discovered or explored, the believer stance never gets a chance. Using the believing stance first, however, leads to exploring all the possibilities of an idea. Then, following up with the doubting stance avoids pitfalls and mistakes.
The value in this observation is that we can train or reprogram ourselves to adopt the doubter/believer stance as our default setting and convert our ‘yes’ or ‘no’ default setting to a useful tool to be utilized as part of our decision-making process which, in my experience has resulted in a higher degree of happiness in my day-to-day life.