In college, I took a Composition Theory course. The professor had crafted the course so that we spent a week or so studying different theories of teaching students to write (and to my surprise, there are a lot!). Each theory intrigued us and prompted lengthy discussion. At one point, the professor commented that our class tended to be very accepting of each new theory, questioning it only after first accepting it. She said it surprised her that we didn’t jump to disbelief each time we heard a new theory.
I found this interesting because it used to be true of me individually, as well. When I heard sermons or read books or listened to new ideas, I tended to listen or read from a place of acceptance. Only afterward would I question–after I had really listened and sought to understand.
To be fair, sometimes it got me into trouble. I can get so caught up in an idea or a philosophy that I forget to ever question; I accept too naively and forget that I’m allowed to–that I need to–question.
But there’s beauty in the acceptance as well. It reminds me of the principle to “seek first to understand then to be understood.” And it stems from a philosophy I heard in college that shaped the way I read literature–and my life.
In a Shakespeare course I took, the professor drew the following diagram.
It comes loosely from the ideas of Paul Ricoeur, a philosopher. The professor used this to explain Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, and I’ve since found that it applies to many works. (I’ve found It also ties into the ideas of Erik Erikson about how we retain and adopt beliefs and the concept of moratorium).
So now I’ll explain the diagram. We start with naïveté about a belief or idea. Hero and Claudio start here in Much Ado about Nothing. Our first dating relationship might be here, as well, unless we’ve witnessed a lot of pain surrounding romantic relationships.
Then something happens to bring us to doubt. This happens in Much Ado when Claudio believes Hero has been unfaithful. However, some of us start here. Beatrice and Benedick start the story in a place of doubt, and it’s unclear exactly why they are so against one another and the other sex in general.
For us to grow stronger as people, we need to move to a second, strengthened naivete. All the characters in the play do this as they learn to trust and forgive. They play ends with marriage–the ultimate symbol of reconciliation.
I found a similar relationship in Pride and Prejudice, as Bingley and Jane start in the first naivete, while Darcy and Elizabeth start in doubt. Again, both couples must move to a second naivete–a place where they can be vulnerable and trust.
At first, it seems like it would be healthier to live in doubt first. We’ve all met people who live there, and sometimes I become one. Cynicism is easier. It’s easier to question people’s motives, to question everything. But it gets so exhausting.
This week, we filled a reusable grocery bag with groceries to be donated from our church. There’s a part of me that only heard doubt–that wonders whether this really matters, that feels guilt that I have so much, that wonders whether the money could be better spent in another way. When a new opportunity pops up or I hear a new message, sometimes my first instinct is to doubt. But doubt comes from a place of hopelessness, and it paralyzes me in the end.
Instead, I’m trying to live in that strengthened, second naivete. Yes, the world is broken. Yes, my grocery bag does very little to help. Yes, the pastor might disagree with me on one issue. But I want to live in the light and hope of a naivete. I want to do my best with the knowledge and resources I have rather than being paralyzed by fear and cynicism.
Doubt is necessary; it will come. Some ideas and beliefs are not worthy of a second naivete. But if I don’t seek to understand and accept first, I won’t be a very good listener–or a very healthy person.
I think about this with raising my son, too. It’s so easy for me to become cynical and doubt myself and the world. I start to see everything that stands against him, and I wonder if even I stand against him sometimes. But I’m learning to trust–to put my faith in God and live in hope for the man my son could become.
It’s the difference between waiting for your husband to cheat on you–which might make it less painful when he does–or being gloriously in love and putting it all on the line. I don’t know which is better, but I do know that for now, I would rather live with faith, trust, and love.
A couple of years ago, when I started questioning my own beliefs about what it looks like to live out my faith, I moved to the realm of doubt. This was good and healthy. I needed to hold things up to the light–to cast out words until I was ready to hear again. But now, I think I’m ready. I’m ready to re-embrace some of the old books and sermons that spoke to my soul. I’m ready to learn from the good parts of my favorite old Podcasts. I’m ready to be a little naive–to not sit in church questioning and doubting but rather to listen and apply.
I’m tired of feeling like I have to read every new book that promises to change my view of God or church or Jesus or children or the world. I’m tired of always forcing my eyes to look when I would rather not. I’m tired of trying to be so responsible to hear every new theory and every new idea.
It’s not popular to be naive–we’re afraid of being gullible, taken advantage of, or just ill-informed. But I’ve grown tired of always trying to find the dark side or the shocking new view. I don’t want to force myself to have everything figured out and analyzed before I can live out what works for our family. I don’t want to be always doubting myself. I want to listen and accept again. And to love freely.
Love; it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
-Mumford and Sons
(The lyrics to this song are, in part, pulled directly from Much Ado about Nothing).