Here’s a brief lesson in critical thinking:
Concerning the truth of any given proposition, there are three possible stances one can take:
1) Affirmation: “I believe the proposition to be true!”
2) Negation: “I believe the proposition to be false!”
3) Suspension of judgment: “I lack sufficient evidence, knowledge, or data to confidently affirm or deny the proposition’s truth!”
Option # 1 is simply an affirmation of belief. It is the claim that one knows something to be true.
Ex. “I am certain that the New York Giants won the Super Bowl in 2012.”
Option # 2 is the exact opposite. It is the claim that one knows something to be false.
Ex. “I am confident that the Giants did NOT win the Super Bowl in 2012.”
Option #3 is nothing more than an honest admission that one does not know if a particular statement is true or false.
Ex. “I have no idea who won the Super Bowl in 2012.”
When discussions on important ideas arise, you will often be challenged to take sides. People might say things like, “Just make a choice,” or “Who’s side are you on?” or “Have some guts and state an opinion!” Others may even attempt to make you feel as if you’re being weak, indecisive, or cowardly by not adopting a precise “I’m for it” or “I’m against it” position on their favorite topic of interest.
No matter what anyone says, you always have the right to take the time and space necessary to carefully evaluate the evidence before declaring yourself the friend or enemy of a particular belief. “I don’t know,” as long as it’s sincerely stated and isn’t being used as an excuse to avoid the process of challenging yourself to think, is a valid position to take on any issue. There are a lot of axes to grind in this world and nearly everyone wants you to be a part of their camp. It’s good for their numbers and it helps their agenda. But none of that is more important than your right to form your opinions, ideas, and beliefs in your own time and on your own terms. That may make others uncomfortable, but that’s their problem.
If you really want to add value to the lives of those you care about, don’t patronize them by treating them as if they need to be protected from the discomfort they may feel when you refuse to feign beliefs or make assumptions. The world is always better off when you exercise your right to think things through. As Christopher Hitchens advised, “Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.” And to that I might add “Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to others as well.”