Opinion and Hubris

I give a lot of opinions in my work - but do I know what i am talking about? I read this week that many politicians have Hubris Syndrome. Hubris is defined by Websters as "exaggerated pride or self-confidence". If you've watched them give speeches, you may have been under the impression that sometimes they was acting as much as speaking from the heart and for some this has been ridiculed as a "new Labour spin".Hubris could be defined as speaking well beyond what you actually know something about and doing so with a confidence that could lead people astray. People [often from bitter experience] found out that in these situations people haven't actually got clue what they're talking about. This has led to a lot of cynicism about institutions and towards leaders.

In my role as a consultant psychiatrist, I frequent, I find myself having to give opinions. Indeed you could say that this is one of the main differences between my job and one of my junior colleagues. The knowledge base we have is not necessarily that much different, although I might have slightly more experience. Instead am often called to give a decision in a particular situation, the argument being that my pay packet means that I should be the one to answer the impossible questions! Part of the skill in being a good consultant is to know which questions are truly answerable, which ones required time to answer and which ones require an answer of start quote. I don't know"

Franz Kafka once said "I can follow a man who is looking for God but not a man who says he has found God." By this I think he was getting at the fact that sometimes when you meet people who say that they have found God they can be quite arrogant and quite assuming in the way they talk about the nature of God and there doesn't seem to be much humility involved. Jesus himself called "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" as being blessed of God, as if to stay continuing to hunger and thirst into righteousness is a better position than assuming that you have got it all already-whatever you may believe theologically about Jesus's death on the cross.

I sometimes find myself wondering how I am to hold these two things intention. My job requires me to give opinions on ground that is often shaky and to which there are no clear answers, but the decision still needs to be made. My faith and my understanding of humanity suggest it might be best to show that I'm still hungering and thirsting after the right answer myself. My medical training tells me that patients like a clear answer, but my psychiatric training tells them that they don't like to be patronised.

It seems to me that one of the key things in this situation is to be very sure of who you are yourself that you are not drawn this way and that by various winds of change or the opinions of others who should enable the delivering of an opinion which is truly based on what you feel to be the best answer. In my experience it is possible to do this with an element of sharing with the patient that this is an educated guess. Although people are looking for answers, they are also able to understand the answer is that clear-cut are not always available. Wisdom and some years of experience can go a long way, as can working to a particular model. You have to be careful that you don't apply your particular model to every situation like a cookie cutter: to phrase it another way, to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

The desire for humility, personal reflection and character development is essential, but ultimately there are going to be times when you wing it and maybe even show a little bit of hubris.
Rob Waller, 26/08/2008
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