Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride are referred to in Christian teachings as the “seven deadly sins.” These, to the Roman Catholics, are the cardinal sins. If a person commits any of them, he is believed to be cut off from God’s grace.1
Actually, the Bible does not specifically mention the concept “seven deadly sins.” But in Galatians 5: 16-19, fifteen acts of the sinful nature are identified – sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies. Perhaps St. Gregory the Great, during his reign as Pope (590 – 640 AD), wanting to be concise, shortened that long list of capital vices.
All Christian faithful are being called upon to not commit those acts of the flesh. St Paul said that believers are free but he implored them not to use their freedom to indulge the flesh. That, definitely, is easier said than done.
I think St. Paul (who wrote the Galatians) and St. Gregory may have overlooked another human frailty that should have been added in the list of sins. There exists another spiritual infirmity which I believe should be considered equally harmful as any of the deadly sins. It’s called self-doubt.
My proposition (that self-doubt be classified also as sin) may not be considered seriously. Many might even say it’s absurd.
Is self-doubt just an ordinary flaw in a person’s character? Is it really a bit too much to consider it a sin? Is it not a serious offense – something that when committed could ruin a person’s life?
Allow me to argue my assertion that self-doubt is a sin.
For the purpose of this essay, we will define self-doubt, strictly, as “the feeling of not having confidence in yourself or your abilities.”2 The DOUBT being discussed here does not refer to that philosophical function “to cast doubt.”3
The definition above (the one before the disambiguation) makes self-doubt sound harmless – not something immoral or demonic that would make the moralists and bible scholars (both past and present) look at it as a sin. That’s probably the reason no religious movement, Christianity included, classified such human inadequacy as a sin.
Self-doubt, however, is not as simple as it seems. This impotence of the human spirit has grave consequences not only to the person having it but to the family where he belongs and to the society where he lives. A person plagued by it will be less-productive or not productive at all and is definitely not going to contribute anything for his family and society.
In arguing that self-doubt is a sin it is important to review the nature of sin in the philosophical standpoint.
Sin is said to be a moral evil.4 This brings us to another question – what is evil? St. Thomas defines the word (evil) as a privation of form or order or due measure. Evil implies a deficiency in perfection.4
Self-doubt is clearly an imperfection. It indicates the absence of confidence which is considered essential for a person’s well-being and is a requirement in the pursuit of what Abraham Maslow refers to in Psychology as “self-actualization” or achieving one’s full potential. Sin is a diversion from the perceived ideal order of human living.5 A person doubting his capabilities veers away from becoming the best that he can be and reduces his chance of living life to the fullest.
It could be argued that there are lot of other negative human characters that may indicate imperfections. But none is as damaging to the person as self-doubt. Something is wrong with a person if he lacks confidence and has very low (or no) feeling of self-worth. These are conditions that may lead to failure and unhappiness.
In addition, philosophical or moral sin is a human act not in agreement with rational nature and right reason.5
It is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience. 6 It is unreasonable to doubt one’s capabilities. It is a person’s moral obligation to believe in himself. It is not right to think one would fail even without really trying. He needs to have faith not only in God (if he happens to believe in one) but also in himself.
Allowing self-doubt to reign is depriving the self of discovering one’s potentials. When a person decides to doubt himself, he eradicates his ability to fulfill his goals and to achieve his dreams.
Failures are indeed impossible not to happen. But even if one fails in several attempts to succeed he should decide not to stop trying. There’s a long list of famous personalities (like Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Walt Disney and Henry Ford) who had their share of failures but never gave up.
Sin, also, wounds the nature of man.6
Thalk emphasizes that self-doubt destroys the heart, mind, body and soul. It is one of the major obstacles to living the life that people truly deserve. This unhealthy food for the soul drags down a person’s spirit, crushes his ambitions, and prevents him from achieving all that he can.7
Doubt impedes a person’s development. It is the biggest roadblock to self-actualization. Self-doubt prevents people from becoming the best they could be, from realizing their full potentials, and from achieving their dreams. Shakespeare stressed, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Suzy Kassem added that doubt kills more dreams than failure ever did.
Some degree of self-doubt is generally held to be normal. It can be helpful in some cases, as it often leads to introspection and enhanced performance. But it may require medical help when it becomes debilitating, affects daily function, or impedes performance at work or school.8
There’s no immorality committed when one doubts himself. Why should it be then considered a sin?
This brings me to the last among my arguments to convince you that self-doubt is a sin.
A sin may either be a sin of commission or a sin of omission. Sins of commission are sins we commit by doing something we shouldn’t do and sins of omission are sins we commit by not doing something.9 The seven deadly sins are all sins of commission except sloth.
Sloth, which is excessive laziness or the failure to act and utilize one’s talents,10 is considered a sin of omission. I think self-doubt belongs to that category. If sloth made it to the list of the deadly sins, self-doubt should be there also.
“Self-doubt,” is just as damaging (perhaps more damaging) to a person than this sin called “sloth.” Actually, in some instances, a person’s failure to use his innate talents starts with his inability to believe what he is capable of thinking.
In overcoming self-doubt, it is important that a person traces the root causes. He should know what factors trigger his self-doubts and learn how to overcome them. If it is lack of knowledge and skills then he must exert efforts to learn and acquire those that he perceives he lacks. There is a possibility that the ones causing him to doubt himself and his capabilities are people… sometimes his own friends. Then by all means avoid them. Equally important it that he must surround himself with people who bring the best in him.
It may be easier said than done but it is important that a person maintains a positive outlook and thinks that there is nothing he cannot achieve or do if he wills it.
I do have a friend who would usually be mistakenly identified as me. There were many instances that people in the university where both of us are teaching called me by his name and him by mine. Why? None of us is a dead ringer for the other but very likely that our similar built, height and rounded face would make people commit that mistake.
Seemingly bemused, he asked me one time, “Why would they think I am you? Do I look as old as you are?” I paused for a while, smiled then told him jokingly, “No, I think I just look as young and handsome as you are.”
As my friend laughed at my response, I thought that the contrasting way we looked at the issue has opened an opportunity for me to revisit the topic “perspective.”
That (perspective) is one of the most amazing things about us humans – our tendency to look at the same thing differently.
Anything in this world can be viewed from different perspectives. We get to decide at what angle we would look at circumstances, problems, events and even objects using lenses that are uniquely ours. We tend to measure the value of those things using our own sets of standards and label and define them according to our beliefs. Those standards and beliefs are shaped by the way we were raised by our parents, trained by our teachers, influenced by the people around us, and conditioned by our culture.
The sum total of the experiences we accumulated since birth and the amount and quality of information we gathered through the years from different sources are the factors that contribute to the kind of perspectives we develop as persons. Our way of viewing things depends on the belief system that those experiences and information impressed upon us.
Each person is entitled to embrace a particular attitude towards something. There are no specific measurement to determine the rightness and wrongness of perspectives. Only the consequences of a person’s action (or the lack of it) as a result of embracing certain perspectives could perhaps be labeled as right or wrong.
When we are about to take a perspective it’s like we’re positioning ourselves in the number scale and decide whether to go north or south. We can either be positive or negative with our perspective. Those are the only directions we could take when we look at issues and circumstances confronting us. It’s a matter of choice.
Perspective is said to be like a coin, it only has two sides. We flip the coin and choose either “head” or “tail.”
Our perspectives affect the decisions we make. They inform the things we think, say and do. Thus, while we are entitled to have any kind of perspective, in the same manner that we are entitled to our own opinions, we have to understand that we will bear whatever consequences there may be for embracing the perspectives we take.
We also need to understand that we could not assume that what we believe or see is definitive. Different people have different ways of looking at things. The perspective of the world that dictates the lens through which we see it is not the same for everybody. We need to develop the ability to see things from another’s viewpoint.
Perspectives can either be broad or narrow.
Having a broad perspective means being able to see the bigger picture. `
I once had a conversation with another friend about working conditions. He bewailed the fact that a truck driver in his country earns more than what he is earning in a year as an expat teacher. After listening to his litany, I told him to pause for a while and dig deeper into his comparison and consider other factors like number of required work hours and the physical demands for the job. When computing the number of hours, I reminded him that we as teachers are not actually working during winter and summer breaks but we get paid in full by the university as stipulated in our contracts.
He realized at the end that his pay per hour is actually higher than the truck driver and his working conditions are much better.
It is not really hard to train the mind to look at the bigger picture. It is easy to look beyond the obvious if only we’re open-minded. It does not require a special kind of training. All we need is common sense.
There are a lot more that could be explored in the discussion of perspective. At the end, the thing that matters is the answer to the question, “How do our perspectives affect the way we live?”
If the lenses we are using to view the world have brought us success and happiness, why change them. We’ve been told many times, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what about if those lenses are seemingly broken and have caused us nothing but failure and misery? Is it time to visit an OPTIMIST?
How should positive thinking be classified – a science or a philosophy (or both)? Calling it a science would be contentious since critics believe that positive thinking has no scientific credibility. What about philosophy? It could be, if we take into consideration the meaning of philosophy in casual speech. We usually use the term to refer to any set of beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of a person or a particular group of people.
Positive thinking is unquestionably that – an attitude. It is a mental attitude that leads a person to expect good results. It is a system of belief that makes people set positive expectations in all their undertakings in life. It makes them hopeful for the future. The term is synonymous to optimism, hope and cheerfulness. The Collins dictionary focused more on optimism in its definition of positive thinking.
Let’s just say that positive thinking is an idea. Ideas can either be embraced or dismissed. Thus, it is understandable why some quarters are negative about positive thinking.
Positive thinking, with many journalists and academicians ridiculing it, may not be accepted to mainstream philosophy. At best it can remain attached to the field of psychology. It is not that this system of beliefs was not advocated by any of the great philosophers. Buddha’s philosophy is anchored on the idea that “changing one’s thoughts can change one’s reality.”. Perhaps nothing beats the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in advancing positive thinking. The bible is replete with verses that foster hope and optimism through faith. The Christ Himself said “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20.)
Again, those who consider themselves as thinkers, especially if you connect the dots of positive thinking to faith in God, might ask for an empirical evidence, a scientific basis, to accept it as valid and true.
William James , himself a famous philosopher who experimented in mental healing, defends the right to violate the principle of evidentialism in order to justify hypothesis venturing. Such allows anyone to assume believe in God [or anything] and prove its existence by what the belief brings to one’s life. How credible is William James? His work has influenced intellectuals such as Émile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty.
Questions surrounding positive thinking are philosophical, not scientific. Being so, they are said to be foundational and abstract in nature thus treated primarily through reflection and does not rely on experiment. But of course the academicians would not settle for anything less than the product of a scientific inquiry.
What remained as the strongest argument thrown against this idea is – no proof can be provided to prove that it works. The question is, “Can the critics themselves provide a solid evidence that it doesn’t work?” We could go on and say that burden of proof should be on the side of those who are saying that positive thinking is not true.
The usual criticism on books written about positive thinking is that they are full of anecdotes that are difficult to substantiate. On the contrary, not all evidence provided by advocates of this belief system are anecdotal. There were studies conducted to somehow help in building for positive thinking a scientific foundation. Mark Guidi, for instance, identified five (5) scientific studies that prove the power of positive thinking. In his article “How the Power of Positive Thinking Won Scientific Credibility”, Hans Villanueva, explained that in 2011, “hundreds of academic papers were published studying the health effects of good things to happen, which researchers call “dispositional optimism.”
But despite all the efforts to establish academic credibility for positive thinking, it will be difficult for this idea to gain acceptance. It is not easy to convince people to embrace this belief system especially with critics vigorously disputing it. Some even resort to “name calling” the advocates of positive thinking.
Others are seemingly even cashing in on their disagreement. They published books discrediting positive thinking. This system of belief may have not been embraced by many but it has become a good read and lot of authors have earned (been earning) a lot from their publications. So, by writing something against it, some authors are hoping to get attention.
There’s one author who presented what he calls as seven (7) biggest myths about positive thinking. Among other things, he said that positive thinkers ignore the world’s suffering.
Positive thinkers do not ignore suffering. They do not deny the existence of problems and conflicts in society. They do not disregard the daily struggles people face. They just want to approach them in a different manner… look at them using a different perspective. What is wrong with that?
Positive thinking simply promotes a new way of approaching all difficulties and challenges in life. It presents an alternative viewpoint. There’s no harm in trying it. It’s not inimical to anyone’s well-being. There’s nothing to lose but everything to gain.
Positive thinking wants people to realize that any phenomena, natural or otherwise… or any of life issues, can be viewed in many angles. There’s a negative or a positive angle… which means things could either be good or bad. Positive thinking does not ignore the bad but rather if offers hope that things would be better if proper actions are taken.
Does that sound harmful? Is it bad to take into consideration what Helen Keller said – “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”?
This system of belief is not passive. Positive thinkers know that they have to take action and the best part of it is that positive thinking requires people to inquire into the nature of their problems using multiple perspectives before deciding on what should be done.
One of the things Rene Descartes explained in “Passions of the Soul” was “the key task of a philosopher is to help people understand and control their passions – that is to become a little less anxious, status driven and scared.” Isn’t this the one of the principles that positive thinking is advocating.
There are some questions that critics of positive thinking need to answer.
What system of belief can you offer as an alternative to positive thinking?
With the system of belief you have, are you happy and successful?
If not, try positive thinking. It might work for you.