Thursday 23 November 2017

On Doubt by Leigh Sales

Touted as a pocket-sized antidote to fake news, Leigh Sales essay On Doubt has been re-released eight years after it's initial 2009 publication in the Little Books on Big Themes series. With the on-going, even increased need for a discussion on self-doubt, balance and truth in our modern lives, this little book has struck a chord with it's 2017 readers, becoming a best seller at work in recent weeks.

Leigh Sales is an ABC journalist and current affairs presenter who has been curious and sceptical all her life. She was the quintessential, questioning, ever-doubting teenager that grew up to do the same thing throughout her career.

She aims to challenge blind faith and over-confidence, but living life with a doubtful mind has it's own pitfalls including anxiety and a lack of an all-consuming passion to name two.

The essay is dotted with fascinating little stories about her childhood, George Bush, Sarah Palin, old style journalists and public disputes between journalists & historians. 

There's even a 12th century philosopher, Pierre Abelard who taught,
that the path to truth lay in the systematic application of doubt. Not only should doubt be brought to bear on external issues, but it should also be turned inwards to test one's own assumptions.

Sales discussed the perils of what she called 'niche news' in 2009. This is the news of telling consumers what they want to hear and it is, of course, interesting to see how this has now morphed into the fake news of today's mad, mad world.

The state of our political system is discussed. Our need for strong leaders to provide electoral certainty has given rise to absolutes. Any leader that changes his of her mind, prevaricates or takes too long to make a decision is seen as a poor leader. Complex issues are not debated, nuance is avoided at all costs, while black and white thinking reigns supreme.

It's easy to see why so many people found Trump attractive when viewed in this light.

Sales finished her 2009 essay poking a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at herself, clearly showing that she didn't take herself too seriously after all:

I feel that without a doubtful mind, I wouldn't learn as much or have as much fun. But I could be wrong.

The 2017 postscript added another 20-odd pages to her original essay which brought us update with Trump, Turnbull, Shorten and social media, all 'neatly manicured to show our best possible selves to the world'.

Sales believes we have now become so used to distortion in every part of our life that people, especially those in public life, 'no longer bother to hide their deliberate skewing of reality'.
She claims that we've stopped caring about the facts and don't trust any organisation or politician to tell us the truth or anything genuine.

But we can do better than double speak and political correctness - the secret is authenticity.
the reality is there are not two equal sides to every issue...There are not two sides to racism or bigotry....When the facts are overwhelming, they should be presented as such.
Facts matter. Integrity matters. Honesty matters. It's important to understand that your own opinion is not always right and it's vital to be open to the views of others.

I read On Doubt late in the day during the 24 hr #DeweyReadathon in preparation for #AusReadingMonth and #NonFicNov. 

It was a quick, easy read with nothing particularly new or startling to reveal, but it was a timely reminder for us all to check in with our own certainties and black and white thinking, to exercise some doubt and caution and to question those who claim to tell us the truth.

I'm not quite sure what koala's have to do with a French philosopher, however this was the quote that Sales used as her epigraph. Since it's #AusReadingMonth, what the heck! Perhaps this can remind that the first thing you should doubt is the notion that koalas are cute and cuddly. Cute they may be; cuddly they are not!


  1. What a fun review....I'll have to look this essay up! Reading Best 16 Australian Essays at the moment. There are some great personal thoughts about our hectic lives in that book!

  2. Koalas not cuddly?! I'm sure that must be fake news!


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