Reasonable Doubt

When ‘Healthy’ Skepticism Really Isn’t

Too much of it can get in the way of new relationships, opportunities, and genuinely beneficial risks

Kate Morgan
Forge
Published in
5 min readFeb 12, 2019

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Illustration: Hisham Akira Bharoocha

EEverywhere you turn, it seems, there’s someone out to screw you over: scammers trying to get your password or your credit card information, telemarketers offering “free” cruises, long-lost acquaintances pretending to care about your life to get you to buy into their multilevel marketing scheme. If you think about the sheer number of times someone tries to pull something over on you in a given week, it’s enough to make you skeptical of anyone and anything.

In a lot of ways, then, skepticism is healthy. It can keep money in your pocket, keep you out of dicey situations, and help you avoid being taken advantage of. But there’s a limit: Hone your sense of skepticism too sharply and it could start to get in the way of your relationships, your personal development, and risks that might be genuinely beneficial for you.

“It is a delicate balancing act,” says Rachel Botsman, a lecturer at Oxford’s Said Business School and the author of Who Can You Trust?, a book about the relationship between trust and technology. “Fear and disenchantment are powerful viruses that spread fast, and we can become vulnerable to being convinced that something that is positive is dangerous.” As an example, Botsman points to the anti-vaxxer movement: Deep-rooted skepticism makes some people so distrustful of the plethora of medical evidence proving the safety of vaccines that they’re willing to expose their children to a host of diseases.

Living as we do in the age of internet scams and privacy invasions, it’s easy for skepticism to become a default response. But actually, Botsman says, it’s more natural to trust.

“Trust is innate,” she says. “For the first few years of our lives, we’re constantly taking trust leaps — from letting go of someone’s hand to taking our first steps to our first day of school to riding a bike.”

Skepticism, on the other hand, is a learned behavior. “Our skepticism and suspicion often begin when something goes wrong or when we have been let down,” Botsman adds. “It can be something that happens directly to us or to…

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Kate Morgan
Forge
Writer for

Kate is a freelance journalist who’s been published by Popular Science, The New York Times, USA Today, and many more. Read more at bykatemorgan.com.