3 Ways Your Certainty Can Harm Others

Certainty warning: proceed with caution.

Certainty can often (though usually discretely) function in opposition to social justice, and to limit our capacity to courage on behalf of justice in the world. Here are three concrete ways certainty gets in the way of our intentions to ally-as-a-verb and even operates as a form of oppression:

(1) Certainty silences other people.

When we are certain about our beliefs, opinions, values, and perspective, we often silence others those with different beliefs and experiences. When we’re certain, we don’t feel in need of alternate perspectives. So we don’t tend to fully hear the experiences or alternate perspectives of other people — particularly the experiences of marginalized people. Instead, we say “yes, but” or we deny or we tell people of color they must have misinterpreted the situation. Those are all forms of silencing, and essentially saying: “You’re wrong. The conversation (which was never really a conversation) is over.”

(2) Certainty takes a defensive posture.

When I’m certain about an idea, I have a vested interest in validating it and protecting it — because our values, beliefs, ideas, etc. form our world and our sense of security in that world. If I was proved wrong, the way I see the world would need to change. And that would likely require a subsequent shift in my behaviors. So: I defend the crap out of what I believe and think. I get into debates; I argue my point; I deflect criticism. I spend time collecting evidence out in the world to justify my own worldview. (I probably don’t realize I’m doing any of this — this whole process can be and often is unconscious). These behaviors are all forms of defensiveness, which is only necessary when we see ourselves as separate from something/someone else and when we believe our worth/rights/freedom is threatened by that other thing or person. That sort of stance is one that breeds (emotional, psychological, or physical) war — not shared humanity.

(3) Certainty restricts learning and growth.

If I’m certain, what need is there to learn? My certainty works for me — it stacks my world neatly in order. Certainty becomes an excuse not to take feedback, not to receive criticism, not to proactively value and seek out alternative narratives and perspectives, not to change behaviors, not to learn new things. It negates the need for inclusivity or innovation, because it protects comfort and the status quo of how things have been. It encases ignorance; it protects naiveté.

Couraging for social change in the world requires: openness; vulnerability; confusion; tension; discourse; and constant learning and growth. Where in your life does certainty function to silence, to defend, and to dismiss?


Interested in learning more? Read about The Case for Confusion here. Interested in going even deeper in the heart work for courage and justice? Check out this radical group coaching program for people shaking up the world.

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