How J.K. Rowling balances humility & truth
Six questions to ask yourself when feeling self-righteous or certain
Am I starting down a dangerous path? Often when traveling and navigating from destination to destination, we’ll be given fair warning about the conditions of a particular road. Sharp turns! Unpaved! Steep decline! Single-lane traffic ahead! I remember being in Iceland with my wife and daughter, and there was an opportunity to save 30 minutes on our way to Seydisfjordur by taking an unpaved road through a mountain passage. Driving only a tiny Honda Jazz Hatchback rental, this unpaved road was serious business. It also went on for what seemed like forever. It wasn’t the right call, considering the benefit was only a measly 30 minutes saved. There was no cell signal on that road! We could have gotten into real trouble.
There are even fewer warnings for the paths we may go down in our daily lives. Hopefully, you have parents, siblings, or trusted friends who can share their concerns, warnings, and direct knowledge of danger with a certain path.
Hopefully, you have some people in your life who can simply ask you questions.
In a conversation with Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, on the podcast The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, the host, Megan Phelps-Roper, is probing the “controversial” author for how she thinks through certainty about ideas. Phelps-Roper was raised in a hate group called The Westboro Baptist Church and even served as their spokesperson in adulthood. She snapped out of it at some point and left to try and build a new life. But knowing that she was once capable of thinking and acting like such a monster toward others, Phelps-Roper does not fully trust her own mind. So she came up with a system.
Because J.K. Rowling is under fire for her position on trans issues and the reality of female biology, Roper wanted to know how Rowling thought through her certainty about the issue.
We need this ourselves. There are several issues that I am quite confident I am correct about, and even aligned with the side of righteousness. Great care must be taken when the feeling of righteousness surrounds you. If J.K. Rowling can answer this list of questions, so can you.
NOTES TO SELF REGARDING RIGHTEOUSNESS
ARE YOU CAPABLE OF ENTERTAINING REAL DOUBT? OR ARE OPERATING FROM A POSITION OF CERTAINTY?
CAN YOU ARTICULATE THE EVIDENCE THAT YOU WOULD NEED TO SEE TO CHANGE YOUR POSITION? OR IS YOUR POSITION UNFALSIFIABLE?
CAN YOU ARTICULATE YOUR OPPONENT’S POSITION IN A WAY THEY WOULD RECOGNIZE? OR ARE YOU “STRAW-MANNING”?
ARE YOU ATTACKING IDEAS OR THE PEOPLE WHO HOLD THEM?
ARE YOU WILLING TO CUT OFF RELATIONSHIPS WITH PEOPLE CLOSE TO YOU OVER THE IDEAS?
ARE YOU WILLING TO USE EXTRAORDINARY MEANS AGAINST PEOPLE WHO CHALLENGE YOU?
This Is The Way is powered by you. Would you consider becoming a free or paid subscriber?
J.K. Rowling has put her entire legacy and reputation on the line for truth. But even as I write this sentence and employ the word “truth”….I’m modeling certainty that men and women exist and that sex/gender are entirely binary. These questions listed above are ones I am asking myself constantly. They show me the way and serve as a warning against dogma, rigidity, and radicalism.
"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."
- Thomas Jefferson
We can live in both humility and truth. Doubt, questions, and searching are invigorating. They can give you unstoppable forward momentum for improvement in this life.
Use this list of questions.
Save them to your phone. Print them out. Write them in your journal. Ask them of yourself in a quiet moment alone today.
This is the way.
One more recommendation
One more piece of recommended reading. I learned in a book called Let Your Life Speak about the Quaker practice of questioning. When a Quaker has to make a big decision, they’ll convene a panel of fellow Quakers who will simply ask them questions. No comments. No remarks or judgments. Just questions related to the issue at hand and the decision. They find it helps the recipient of the questions to probe their motivations in the matter at hand.