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Why we should question our deepest held convictions

By Ben Mokamba | May 17th 2019

Inuka Kenya CEO John Githongo (left) addresses press conference alongside Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu James Gondi on Wednesday 06 2017 regarding the arrest of David Ndii. He was ordered by the court to pay former minister Chris Murungaru Sh27 million for defamation. [David Njaaga,Standard]

In her book; “Being Wrong”, Kathryn Schulz emphasises that ‘a whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are close to omniscient.’ 

True to this, the frontiers of history are littered with inhumane acts of people caught up in the deceptive claws of unchecked convictions, some of which led to the development of dangerous ideologies.

There has often emerged a person who, armed with a deep sense of conviction about a certain matter, acted out this conviction without giving room for alternative perspectives. The results have often been disastrous. Violent wars have been started in the name of peace; inhumanity peddled in the name of humanity and reputations destroyed in the name of integrity.

A good example of this is the Holocaust. There are many accounts that attempt to explain the motivations of Adolf Hitler, who history has judged as the orchestrator-in-chief of the Holocaust.

The accounts, however different, agree on the same thing; that Hitler was deeply convinced of the righteousness of his cause. In his mind, he was the savior of humankind, gifted with the insight of an incorruptible ideology, a ‘noble duty’ to ‘make Germany great again’. The consequences of that ideology are however chilling; millions of innocent lives were lost.

  Any message

When I ponder further about this stubborn clinging to an unchecked ideology, I cannot help but recall the story of the Japanese soldier of World War 2 who stayed in the jungle 27 years after the war had ended.

Hidden away in the jungle, and without a credible source of information, he had no capacity to question his belief that the war was still ongoing.

He stayed put long after everyone else had hang their boots and gone home, engaging an imaginary enemy. He even rejected any message saying that the war was over as propaganda from the ‘enemy’.

These stories are among many others that offer hindsight into how often people who deeply believed they were right often ended up being so wrong, how they erred so far from the truth they claimed to profess. Isn’t this is why we should constantly question our beliefs, convictions, and develop tolerance to divergent perspectives?

A case to study would be the recently concluded case of Mr John Githongo. Former Minister Chris Murungaru had sued him for linking him to graft almost 13 years ago. In his defence, Mr Githongo argued before the judge that as a PS in charge of Ethics and Governance at that time, he had a legal, moral and social duty to forward information about corruption to the President and director of the anti-corruption body even.

Investigative bodies

However, according to the judgement by Justice Sergon, Mr Githongo is personally liable for the defamation suit brought before the court. The judge pointed out issues that led to this conclusion; why did the defendant publicise information that he had collected as his evidence to the public as if it was the ultimate truth, yet he is not an expert in matters investigation?

Is it possible that in his deep sense of conviction, he failed to subject this conviction to a test of truth, and would it have been more prudent for him to exercise caution and allow the graft body to carry out due diligence on the dossier he claimed to present before it?

What’s more, why did he decline to first make a formal statement on his allegations to the investigative bodies before publicising the dossier in the media and even approving for publication the manuscript of the sensational book “It’s Our Turn To Eat” by Michela Wrong?

In my opinion, this case compels us to draw several lessons from it. First, it is important to subject our convictions to scrutiny. History reveals that sometimes we are wrong when we believe we are right, and our errors of judgement are often consequential. Second, it reveals to us the danger of a one-sided story.

The dossier and the subsequent publication of “It’s Our Turn To Eat” \clouded out the opportunity for alternative versions of the story to be revealed to the same public. Subsequently, many names were tainted by this version of the story. Only after 13 years has an alternative version been heard, and a ruling made based on this emerging version.

Mr Mokamba comments on social issues

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