At Rest — The Spectrum


We walk through our world, doubting and believing.  We often do this without reflection, and often develop strongly held views, some based upon unexamined assumptions and biases.  Examining our spontaneous doubt and belief allows us to slow down our thinking, and potentially surface unexamined assumptions for reconsideration.  The doubting and believing scale offers a way to interrupt possibly problematic patterns in our doubting and believing by forcing us to become conscious of our instinctual responses and pinpoint what affects our assesments of what is credible. We reflect on our doubting and believing, disrupt our gut reactions and in further reflection increase our nonjudgment, focussing on facts, not prejudice, to shape our opinions and assessments.


The Doubting and Believing Scale at Rest measures spontaneous feelings of belief and disbelief on a scale from zero to one hundred.   This scale prompts us to consider our individual patterns of doubting and believing and to enable deliberate alterations of doubting and believing through consideration of new facts.

The Doubting and Believing Scale at Rest

Together with Mark Weisberg, a law professor at Queen’s University, Jean developed the Doubting and Believing Spectrum, inspired by an essay by English Literature scholar Peter Elbow.  The scale allows for expression of belief or doubt on a sliding scale from 100 to 0, with 100 representing pure belief and 0 representing pure doubt. The doubting and believing scale asks a lawyer to assign a numeric value to their level of doubting or believing. For example, a lawyer whose asylum client initially narrates an account very consistent with the relevant Country Report accounts from the US Department of State may initially view her clients claim upwards of 90 on the scale, but below 30 if the client offer scant detail and conflicting facts. The Doubting and Believing Scale at Rest can be used to track a particular moment of actual doubt and belief as it occurs in lawyer with some level of nuance.  The scale can be used retroactively, in the moment, and prospectively: individuals can assign a value to how much they doubted or believed something at a time in the past, what their gut, instinctual response is in the moment, or they can choose how much they will doubt or believe something at a time in the future.   As distinguished from the Doubting and Believing Scale in Motion, the Doubting and Believing Scale at Rest only asks the lawyer to identify a single point of doubt and belief based upon a fixed input of facts.

The doubting and believng scale. Belief on the left represents 100. Doubt on the right represents 0. 50 is in the middle.

Introducing the Doubting and Believing Scale

After introducing the Doubting and Believing Scale, Mark, Jean and Sue often give or ask for examples of conversations and presentations that are likely to fall close to either side of the scale. We believed that individuals are extremely unlikely to categorize most things as either absolutely credible (100) or unbelievable (0) but that many moments in our lives fall near those extremes. Some examples follow:

Examples of belief: Examples of doubt:
  • sympathetic conversations with a grandparent;
  • listening on a crisis hotline; • listening by a therapist;
  • early lawyer-client or doctor-patient interviews;
  • a student attempting to learn a brand-new theory or material from a teacher;
  • a friend listening to another friend in a time of utter distress;
  • listening to an expert consultant like an accountant, financial planner, etc.
  • law teaching through the Socratic method;
  • teachers listening to colleagues at a workshop on a paper in progress;
  • listening to a politician you do not trust;
  • listening to someone with a credibility problem;
  • arguing the negative side in a debate tournament;
  • when a friend comes and asks you specifically to be a reality tester and asks you to find everything wrong with something they’re thinking or have written;
  • cross-examining a witness who is doing you harm.

Possible exercise:
Present students with a handout that includes the Doubting and Believing Scale at the top of the page. Halfway down the page, list the examples presented above in a randomized but numbered order. Ask students to spend about three to five minutes deciding where on the scale each example belongs and indicate its place by writing the corresponding number of each example on the scale.  While many will locate the events near one extreme end or the other, even pushing them among similarly placed items (say, 81 v. 89 for very believing contexts) could be an interesting challenge.

Once students have finished sorting these examples, have them compare their handouts.   Did their answers differ? If so, which ones and why? Were there any conversations students placed closer to the center than to either pole? If so, which ones and why? Consider asking students to think of other examples of doubt and belief. Ideally, students’ categorization of examples will be quite different from the sorting that Mark and I have suggested above. This can result in a fruitful discussion of the reasons why one may be inclined to believe or doubt in various instances, which is one of the scale’s purposes. For example, a student who previously worked on a crisis hotline expressed disagreement with that conversation’s placement based on her experience; many placed that context near pure belief, but the experienced student did not.

The Scale’s Link to the Habits and Cross-Cultural Lawyering

Spontaneous doubt and belief are quick and subjective and therefore vulnerable to assumption and bias. Reflecting on spontaneous doubt and belief enables lawyers to consciously choose doubt and belief in particular instances can help disrupt those assumptions and biases. This disruption is especially important in cross-cultural encounters where differences necessarily shape what we find credible or suspect. Competent cross-cultural lawyering demands recognizing and destabilizing these assumptions. The line-up described below is an effective way to use the scale to reinforce our understanding that assumptions shape belief and doubt.

Like the Habits, the Doubting and Believing Scale is nonjudgmental, asking the lawyer to map doubt or belief on a scale, and then observe and reflect on how this view was developed.  Slowing down this natural, spontaneous thinking process offers the lawyer insights that challenge assumptions, generate ideas, and promote empathy. Additionally, doubting and believing relate to each of the habits in specific ways. Doubting one’s perception of too few or very many similarities and differences in Habit One is encouraged, especially because we are much more likely to trust sources similar to us. To practice Habit Two, the lawyer must both believe the client’s legal claims and understand why the decisionmaker in the legal forum  may doubt their validity. Doubt and belief are similar to Habit Three’s Parallel Universe Thinking insofar as it invites lawyers to reflect on spontaneous beliefs and consider alternate reactions to the same facts before crediting his spontaneous belief or doubt. In Habit Four can be used brainstorm correctives to spontaneous doubt and belief resulting from lawyer-client communications. In Habit Five, belief can be used as a corrective to a lapse in nonjudgmental thinking when exploring oneself as a cultural being.

Using the Scale: The Line Up

Line up activities can be a great, engaging way to further your lesson on the Doubting and Believing Scale at Rest. Start by laying down a long piece of masking tape on the floor to create your line. Make the line long enough to comfortable accommodate all participants. On the far left, create a B for “Belief” also using masking tape; consider also creating a “100” in tape. On the far right, create a D for “Doubt,” adding a “0” next to it.   Instruct students to draw the line on a piece of paper. Next, explain to students that you will read a short text aloud and that they should listen carefully, assess their own spontaneous doubting or believing to the text as a whole and mark their final spot on their paper. After everyone chosen a spot on paper, instruct students to find a spot on the line according to their level of doubt or belief. Having students do it on paper before they get up to stand on the line,encourages students to commit to their spot before they see others’ spots. This usually results in a greater spread.

Challenge students to come up with a numerical value for their adopted position. Any text you select is likely to produce a diversity of reactions, but stories that invite disbelief or uncertainty are more likely to do so. Instructors can also consider whether the selected texts will relate to current events, situations likely to arise in clinical practice, or other readings assigned for the course. Once students have sorted themselves on the line, solicit volunteers to share their numerical value and to share aloud their thinking in arriving at that number. Alternatively, you may ask students to observe where the group is on the line as a whole before returning to their seats for discussion. Students may be surprised to hear one another’s thinking. We often ask the question: how is it we can hear the same story and have very different reactions? Students are more likely to see their own assumptions when they hear contrasting views of other classmates.

Here is an example of an inquiry that allows students to line up and learn from each other: We ask students to watch a video (forthcoming) in which a client arrives at an interview with her brother. After a brief conversation in the waiting room the lawyer announces that if it is all right with the client, she will interview the client alone first and then talk with the brother if needed. The client responds, “All right, if you think that is the most convenient thing. But he is the one who usually helps me.” We ask the students to locate themselves on the doubt and belief scale on the statement: “he is the one who usually helps me.” They then line up at the spot that reflects their level of belief or doubt. Having used this video several times, we observe that many students end up in the 50 – 80 range, towards belief. A few end up at 100 and a sizeable number range from 15 – 40, on the doubting side. The students who line up at an almost pure belief part of the scale often include those who come from immigrant families and have accompanied family members to many appointments while those on the low end of the scale often express disbelief based on experiences working in women’s organizations, especially doing domestic violence work.

In another example, Jean has used clips from the West Wing episode “Shibboleth” (Season 2, Episode 8) involving the asylum claim of a Chinese man claiming persecution based on his Christian faith. Jean shows the clips to the students after introducing the scale and asks students first to mark on paper their level of doubt or belief of the statement “As an asylum officer, I believe this man is telling the truth.” The students then stand on the line, and we discuss their observations. We then compare this to the standards for evaluating credibility in the asylum statute.

Rather than having a group-wide discussion about for why people chose a particular spot on the scale, another variation from Mark’s teaching is to ask students to pair up with another student located on the opposite end of the scale or farther from them on the scale. Then, ask students to take turns sharing their numerical doubt or belief and their thinking in arriving at that number. Instruct students to listen nonjudgmentally, even silently,  as their partner shares their doubt or belief and their rationale. This would be a good opportunity to ask students to reflect on the differences from their own thinking or to report to the class as a whole the differences discussed in their pair group.

The scale and the line-up provide useful insights to students about the subjective nature of belief and doubt, a critical insight in all lawyering and especially necessary when working across culture and language.


In short, assigning a numeric value to your own doubting or believing according to the scale can and should be undertaken at any time as an important tool for teachers, students, and practicing lawyers seeking to surface their own assumptions and improve their cross-cultural lawyering skills. Lawyers can build upon this Scale by observing Doubting and Believing in Motion and adopting belief and doubt deliberately.