Skepticism has been important in shaping the modern world. It lies at the heart of the scientific method. It has only been by questioning things, while demanding reliable evidence that has allowed people to improve their circumstances. If the early humans had just accepted things and gone with the status quo ,it is likely that people would still be living in caves – or more likely be extinct. It is skepticism that has helped to drive progress and this remains true today. Without such a questioning attitude people would be willing to believe all sorts of unlikely and possibly even dangerous things.
A skeptical attitude can be beneficial for people who are recovering from an addiction. It encourages them to seek out the most effective path that will allow them to build a strong sobriety. On the other hand, if people in early recovery are overly skeptical it may get in the way – this is particularly true when their skepticism is bordering on cynicism. For people in recovery it is probably best to mix skepticism with a healthy dose of humility.
Skepticism can be defined as a doubting or questioning state of mind. The word skeptic can refer to a wide range of behaviors. Some individuals will be skeptical about all beliefs, opinions, and knowledge while others will only be skeptical about certain issues. It is common for skeptics to refuse to believe in anything unless it is supported by strong evidence. For modern skeptics this evidence usually needs to be of the scientific variety and anecdotal claims are usually viewed with suspicion.
People often get mixed up between the words skepticism and cynicism. These two attitudes are quite different in reality. The individual who is cynical will tend to accept and reject things based on their current belief system. The cynic will already have made their mind up on a subject even before they have heard the evidence for any claim. This type of attitude means that the individual is more interested in protecting their current beliefs and opinions rather than finding truth. Ideally a skeptic should start out with no belief about a given topic. They are expected to approach things with an open mind and base any beliefs on evidence. In reality most skeptics will have at least some biases which will get in the way of approaching things with a truly open mind.
A certain degree of skepticism can be of value to people who are recovering from an addiction. The benefits of such a questioning attitude can include:
* Those people who are new to recovery can be vulnerable to manipulation and receiving bad advice. A touch of skepticism will ensure that the individual does not just believe everything they are told without question.
* If people are looking for short cuts in recovery there will be plenty of resources that will claim to help them. Most of these programs that offer instant results are not very effective so it pays to be a bit guarded when dealing with such bold claims.
* Not everyone in the recovery community is going to be on the right track. There are plenty of dry drunks who will act as poor role models and offer bad advice to newcomers.
* There are plenty of well meaning people in recovery fellowships who give bad advice – this can be particularly dangerous when the advice is in regards to health issues. It is best to always treat such advice with skepticism unless the individual is qualified to make their claims.
* Just because something seems to be working for one person in recovery does not automatically mean it will work for everyone. In order for the individual to find the path that will work best for them they will need to ask questions and do plenty of investigation.
* A skeptical attitude can improve the odds that the individual will find the most appropriate recovery path that will work for them.
* Skepticism is highly empowering. It means that the individual is actively engaged in making their own life better, and this should increase their chances of finding success.
* There are certain beliefs and practices that can be highly dangerous for the individual – for example, people have given up needed medical treatments for miracle cures that do not work. It is important that people learn to approach extraordinary claims with at least a touch of skepticism.
Addicts tend to hold a cynical attitude and may feel highly suspicious of anyone who is trying to help them. Such cynicism can get in the way of their recovery and cause problems. Excessive skepticism can also be damaging for people in recovery for a number of reasons including:
* Some people who would consider themselves as skeptical would be actually better described as cynical. They have already made their mind up about paths in recovery without even giving them a fair try.
* There are tools and strategies that have proved effective for people in recovery yet may not be currently backed up by scientific research. If the individual insists on only making use of those suggestions that have been given the full scientific stamp of approval it may mean that they miss out on things that could work for them.
* The individual can use skepticism as an excuse not to try different things in recovery. In order to get the best out of sobriety it can often help to suspend judgment and just go with the flow (unless of course there is a risk that the suggestion could be damaging).
* Anecdotal reports of how people cope in recovery can be extremely helpful. It is not a good idea to dismiss such helpful information out of hand.
* Sometimes the main thing is that a recovery tool is effective. The reason why it works isn’t always that important.
* It is good to keep in mind that just because science has not recognized the importance of a recovery tool does not mean that it should be dismissed. It may be many years before science gets around to looking at all those strategies that seem to help addict.
* In reality skeptics can dismiss things they don’t feel comfortable with out of hand just like anyone else.
* Some skeptics can be blunt in their judgments of the tools used by other people in recovery.
This type of behavior can come across as arrogant and it doesn’t tend to win them many friends.
If people are recovering from an addiction it is probably best if they temper their skepticism with a touch of humility. This does not mean that they should allow other people to walk all over them or that they should believe everything that is said to them. It just means that they are respectful when listening to the claims made by other people and not dismissing things out of hand. The individual who is humble is not afraid to admit their gaps in knowledge, and will freely admit that there are lots of things that they just don’t know. When skepticism is mixed with humility it means that people avoid appearing arrogant. They can give their own view on things while still remaining respectful.
It is often claimed that beginner’s mind is the most helpful attitude for people to have in recovery. This means that when they are faced with new information they temporarily set aside their beliefs and opinions on an issue. Beginner’s mind means being humble enough to give something a fair hearing and not rushing to judgment. The individual does not allow their preconceived biases and opinions get in the way of this current experience. The individual with this attitude may find that even the most unlikely claims can contain some important truths.
Skepticism is closely related to critical thinking. This can be defined as a type of rational open ended mental processing that is informed by evidence. In order to be truly skeptical the individual needs to develop their critical thinking capabilities. The benefits of critical thinking for people in recovery include:
* Those people who have been trapped in addiction tend to develop beliefs and opinions that are illogical and dangerous. In recovery they need to weed out these faulty beliefs using critical thinking.
* The early weeks and months of recovery can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, and the individual may easily fall into irrational behavior. Critical thinking will help to keep their feet firmly on the ground.
* It is now recognized that there are many paths in recovery and the individual will need to find the one that is going to be most effective from them. The ability to think critically should ensure that people choose wisely.
* Sobriety should be all about living a life free from delusion. Critical thinking can help people achieve this goal.