“Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.”
— William Shakespeare
My interpretation of the quote
Perhaps no one has ever understood the emotional workings of the human mind as well as Shakespeare did. Hailed as a genius by many, his works are known to have influenced many modern thinkers. In fact, Shakespearean psychology influenced Sigmund Freud’s theories of human nature. Celebrated writers and poets including Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner, and Charles Dickens too drew on Shakespearean writings for inspiration.
In the above quote, Shakespeare says that our doubts cripple us, immobilise us and prevent us from reaching our potential. Doubts are a fertile soil for fear. Doubts ruin our chances of success by creating blocks of fear in our minds. Fear prevents us from attempting something that may be good for us.
Shakespeare depicts the complexities of the human mind which show tremendous potential and yet often fails to realise that potential because of its own doing. He calls our doubts “traitors” because they conspire against us. Doubts are manufactured by our own mind, and they work against our interests by creating fear. When we are fearful, we hesitate to take an initiative even when we know that it might be for our own good.
As an example, let’s say you love someone but do not profess your love to your love-interest because you are not sure of reciprocity. Your doubts may be about his/her feelings, or about your own self – but they have worked against you. What you have essentially done is that you have given up any chance of reciprocity, even if exists. By not attempting, you have “lost the good that you may have won if you had attempted.”
We ought to understand that a doubt is a doubt – by definition, it’s not certainty. But when we allow our doubts to rule our minds, we transform them into “certainty”. Only when we begin to view our doubts as traitors conspiring against our own self will we learn to ignore them. By not paying heed to our doubts, we stop fear from taking root and can then advance confidently in our chosen direction.