Certainty Is What You Don’t Get

Life is uncertain. This is not news, but we continue to argue with this reality. Much of our effort is an attempt to negotiate our way toward some kind of certainty about reality and about our future state. We don’t like losses. We have insurance so we don’t have unexpected expenses. We have guarantees for objects or services we purchase. We like to name things as if that gives us control over them:

When I worked at a school, a parent would come into the guidance department and say, “My child is having difficulties keeping up with math.” The school psychologist would do extensive testing and give the report: “The child has a learning disability in math.” Everyone would nod and say, “Ah. A learning disability.” How is a learning disability different from difficulty learning? It is a name, which makes it feel more concrete, more real. Yes, but if you know what it is, then you can figure out how to deal with it. That is the story. We can nail it down. We can be certain. We can apply techniques, or methods. We want an answer. It is better than being “in limbo.”

We feel vulnerable and frightened. We want the experts to tell us what to do and to take responsibility for our decisions. We want medicine to be a science and not an art. We want geologists to predict earthquakes. We don’t want to know that we are moving through an uncertain world with our unique strengths and weaknesses, our messy relationships, and our unpredictable communities of mutual aid.

It is easier to deal with concrete versions of reality than the complex, paradoxical, conflicting experience we have. We are drawn in great numbers to absolutist views, either/or perspectives, and adamant assertions. We do not want to acknowledge the messiness and arbitrariness of life. It is easier to believe that people who are suffering have somehow caused their own problems than it is to recognize that could be us.

What can we do? We can stop running away from the difficult realities of our lives and of life in general and sit still and let ourselves know what is real–to the extent that we can figure that out. We can know that we are not in control of everything and at the same time our choices do matter. Even though we cannot have certainty, we can engage with our lives in all their messiness, and we can engage with our relationships with all their difficulties. It is our own reflective, solid presence that allows us to be participants rather than spectators or avoiders of  our own experience.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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