Sunday, October 5, 2014

THE QUEST FOR UNCERTAINTY – Why Wondering Is More Powerful than Being Right

Don’t get me wrong; I truly envy some people for their clarity of thought. I often wish I were more decisive, that I could be sure enough about a decision or an issue, right away, to be willing to go to bat for or against it.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of my reticence as a handicap. But in the past decade or so, at last, I’ve found a way to free myself of that burden; I’ve decided it’s actually one of my greatest strengths.

          Isn’t the brew of consequence richer, 
          more robust, when one lets facts and 
          feelings percolate for a while?

After all, I’m thinking, isn’t the world a more interesting place when the conversation doesn’t necessarily end at one person’s version of the truth? Isn’t the brew of consequence richer, more robust, when one lets facts and feelings percolate for a while? Isn’t genuine understanding better served when for every ideologue there’s a skeptic; for every answer, a question; for every teacher, a student?

I guess I can’t stop being the student. And I'm pretty sure that’s okay.

          The more I learn, the more certain I am 

          that I don’t know everything.

Learning’s a funny thing. For many people, it seems it’s just the means to an end. You learn so you can know; you know so you don’t have to listen to anyone any more. Not me. The more I learn, the more certain I am that I don’t know everything…and the harder I listen. For me, asking questions, keeping open the door to curiosity and wonder, is more powerful than being right.

Of course, I understand that much of modern life revolves around having answers. Sometimes one must act on those answers—the best ones possible given constraints of time and resources. But I keep thinking how much of the human experience, spanning nearly every culture, hinges not so much on whether or not those answers are the right ones, as on some clever person’s ability to make you think they are. There must be a better way.

       Isn’t there a kind of abundance in knowing 
       that all the possible conclusions are still 
       out there for you?

Giving myself permission to be ambivalent has been liberating. Ironically, it seems to have actually emboldened my thinking in a way. Not that I make decisions any more easily; but I’m coming more and more to not just tolerate, but actually celebrate the knowledge that absolutely nothing—including this statement—is absolute. It all depends on how I look at it—the lens of my experience; the filter of my judgement; the lightings and shadings of my emotions.

Besides that sense of liberation, isn’t there a kind of abundance in being slow to judge, in knowing that all the possible conclusions are still out there for you? Come on, isn't there at least a small part of you that pities those who so quickly limit their prospects to just one outcome, one reality?

                                         ~         ~         ~

I’m interested in your take on this. How certain are you, at your core, of decisions you make? Does having to know something for sure ever feel like a constraint on your intelligence and creativity? Do you catch yourself turning off your curiosity in order to protect your certainty?

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and wrong.


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