I often playfully describe conviction as being guilty of believing.
Convictions are more than opinions.
They are essentials. They give us the strength to overcome doubt and uncertainty. They empower us to venture out of our comfort zone and grow.
Convictions quiet our inner critic and free us from social conventions.
The Philosophy Foundation was built around the conviction that everyone should discover and explore philosophy. It led them to facilitate classes where most of us would not dare to go. They went to prisons.
If many could welcome the idea with sarcasm or hesitation, it didn’t deter them. On the contrary, the charity offers offenders a space for self-expression and the opportunity to be philosophers for a few hours.
The core of our convictions, which gives us incredible power, is knowing our purpose and why we do something.
But do convictions have to be reasonable?
Was venturing West in caravel to reach the East Indies reasonable?
Was sending men to the Moon reasonable?
Is teaching philosophy classes in prison reasonable?
Having convictions is not reasonable, but we should be. Convictions, left unchecked, can lead to terrible mistakes.
To prevent it, we should follow the precious advice from the author and founder of Women in Technology — India, Anuranjita Kumar: “Keep testing your conviction from time to time, with your intellect as well as emotions to ensure you are on the right path.”¹
How? By balancing skepticism and openness.
With too much skepticism, we will miss on interesting feedback or new ideas we would benefit from, and that ultimately could alter our convictions.
With too much openness, our convictions would be no more. They would disappear as soon as we face difficulty or opposition instead of helping us to push through.
Finding this balance truly liberates us.
In the nineteenth century, Florence Nightingale was born in an aristocratic English family and decided to devote her life to helping others as a nurse.
This profession was not deemed respectable in the early nineteenth century, and women were expected to stay at home. However, she overcame her family’s disapproval and the pressure of social norms with her sheer conviction.
Facing the horrors of the Crimean War, she looked after every soldier with her team. She was often seen at night, with a lamp in her hand, going from room to room, compassionately checking on the wounded. It earned her the moniker of “the Lady with the Lamp”.
With her experience, we made many innovations, primarily focused on sanitation and hygiene at the hospital, despite the relentless criticisms from doctors.
Gifted for mathematics, she forged her conviction on the back of statistical evidence. And when disproven, she had the courage and openness to change her view.
With this balance, she achieved incredible results, dropping the mortality rate from hospitalized English soldiers in India from 68 to 18 per 1,000 in ten years².
She completely changed the perception of nursing and even created her school to share her learnings and methods.
Sometimes, having a conviction can feel like being at a hard rock concert.
We know this friend, waving his head and jumping all around, is singing the wrong lyrics. We can try as much as we want to tell him; he just cannot hear us.
What if we are this friend? What if our convictions blind us from a better alternative?
When facing challenging views, I try to ask myself:
“Is there anything they can say that could change my mind?”
If I surprise myself by answering no, then I wander too far off the path of openness.
For this challenge, let’s practice our active listening.
Of course, it is best in discussions that promote different opinions, but we can also use it in our everyday life.
First, pay attention. We must be present, not scrolling our phones or thinking of the shopping list.
Second, withhold judgment. We should let others finish their explanations without any interruption.
Third, clarify and summarize. We have to ensure we understand adequately. We can ask questions such as “let me see if I’m clear” or “could you please explain this further?”. Then, as we state the key points, we let our interlocutor know they were heard and listened to.
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- Kumar K., 2015, “Can I Have It All — Trials and Triumphs in a woman’s journey through the corporate landscape”, Bloomsbury India
- Cohen B., 1984, “Florence Nightingale”, Scientific American