Faith and Confidence

The other week, J. and I were talking about Harold Camping and his amusing predictions of imminent doom, and she said that while he is, of course, a loon, she admires his faith and how it allows him to persist in the face of adversity and ridicule. This isn’t the first time I’ve run across this sentiment, so I thought it might be worth addressing.

While it’s nice to be able to overcome obstacles, that’s only half the story. If I may use an extended (and therefore ultimately friable) analogy, as is my wont, confidence is like the engine in a car: the more powerful it is, the faster you’ll get where you’re going, and the fewer potholes will stop you.

But that’s no good unless you’re going someplace worth going. A powerful engine can get you to Fort Lauderdale for spring break, but it can also send you flying through the front window of a Wendy’s. That is to say, if you have full faith and confidence in a wrong idea, it can allow you to ignore obstacles like valid criticism and do something damnfoolish or worse (9/11 springs to mind).

To a great extent, confidence is a good thing. But this has to be tempered with reason. Sometimes, when people tell you you’re an idiot for pursuing your dream, it’s because they’re jealous or don’t realize the brilliance of your idea. But a lot of times, it’s because you’re an idiot. Remember that dotcom you worked for in the nineties, when you though that if you could just convince enough people to subscribe to your kielbasa-review site, that network effects would kick in and you’d make enough money to topple Wal-Mart? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. You were an idiot.

Now personally, I find that what helps my confidence is knowing what the hell I’m doing. Granted, not knowing what you’re doing can mean that you don’t know the conventional wisdom that says that what you’re doing is impossible, and can therefore surprise people when you do it and demonstrate that the conventional wisdom was wrong. But usually, the conventional wisdom is right.

But the better you know your subject, and the better your critical thinking skills, the better you’re able to judge the merits of the conventional wisdom. You’re in a better position to figure out whether your idea is feasible or just a pipe dream. To figure out whether the obstacles and arguments against you are real or just illusory.

And, of course, there’s a lot to be said for plain old getting pumped up about something. But I’m the wrong person to ask about that. You may want to take a look at how it’s done at churches, concerts, and so on.

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