Sometimes I try to think backward into my life and figure out what the first signs were that I would grow up to identify as a skeptic. The thing that most frequently pops into my head when I do this is from high school (and involves a mild trigger warning for mention of sexual assault).
I went out with my first girlfriend junior year of high school. It was, in many ways, an adorable relationship. We were both shy, and perhaps awkward, and just learning the ropes of what our feelings did when we put them next to other people.
I loved spending time alone with this girl. Just being next to each other and talking and cuddling was about my favorite thing to do. I remember, though, that being alone with her always made a part of me nervous.
Being alone with her made me nervous because I knew it was a context in which sexual assault happened. I knew it was a context in which sexual assault happened, and I didn’t know what made people commit sexual assault. The reasoning that made me nervous was roughly, “If I don’t know what it is that makes people commit sexual assault, then I don’t know what makes me different from those people. If I don’t know what makes me different from those people, then I don’t know if I am different from those people.”
It may seem silly that I didn’t feel comfortable assuming something as apparently basic as, “I am not the type of person who would sexually assault someone.”, but, frankly, thinking back on it makes me proud of myself.
Because here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t assume that because I think of myself as someone who tries to be a good person, I wasn’t the type of person who would do bad things. I didn’t use my personal narrative as evidence that I wouldn’t do something “bad”. I identified a lack of knowledge (the fact that I didn’t know why people committed sexual assault), and I didn’t fill in the blanks with what I supposed or wanted to be true.
To me, this is the type of thinking that helps me be a good skeptic. It’s my refusal to let how I think of myself or what I would like to be true of myself get in the way of honest assessments of what I actually, literally know (or don’t know) about myself.
I am not always a good skeptic, but when I am, it’s habits like this that help me be that way.