Frank Herbert was wrong

By | 2010/11/29

Frank Herbert, in Dune, wrote:

Fear is the mind-killer
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

I used to really like this quote, but I’m starting to see that in real life, it’s not useful. Or rather, not as useful as it could be. With license, I think the following works much, much better:

Doubt is the mind-killer
Doubt is the little-death that brings total obliteration
I will face my doubt.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the doubt has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

To me “fear” is a subset of doubt. We can doubt without being afraid, but we can’t be afraid without doubting.

In particular I think it’s when we doubt ourselves that we come unstuck the most. Of course, that doesn’t mean people should have a license for arrogance; you might assume that arrogance is the absence of doubt, but I’d suggest it’s actually the narcissistic absence of doubt. Someone who is arrogant is considerably different to someone who can recognise when doubt (and self-doubt) is interfering.

I personally don’t think it’s possible to live without doubt – the same way that it’s not possible to live without happiness or without sorrow. These things are a natural part of what and who we are. The real challenge is being able to accept the doubt – let it teach and offer reserve and discretion when required, but not to let it rule, not to let it govern how we think.

Otherwise it really is the mind-killer, the little-death that brings total obliteration. With this, I think I speak from experience. In 2006 the company I was working for collapsed, and I’d invested so much of myself and my self image in the role I had that it left me depressed and struggling through a miasma for over two years. Ultimately the root of that was self-doubt. I’m not by any means saying I’m fully cured, but what allowed me to come out of the depression and start getting back to normal was recognising just how destructive the self-doubt was.

“I will face my doubt … I will permit it to pass over me and through me … only I will remain.”