It is a problem that is bothering me more and more these days.
We communicate with answers and act with righteous certainty ... even when, on the inside, most of us feel unbelievably lost.
And boy oh boy, do we (pretend to) have answers for it all. Take a quick scroll through social media or listen to a conversation at the next table at the coffee house while you slowly sip your drink. You'll find no shortage of self-proclaimed experts on any variety of issues: from gun control to how to be a good friend. (And be honest: How many times have you spoken out without acknowledging your own ignorance or confusion on the matter?)
What isn't being discussed are the questions and the uncertainties. Far fewer people are saying, "I don't know" ... and even fewer are admitting that they don't know, then asking the questions to learn, then staying silent while they listen to the responses. That takes too much time, of which we claim to be in short supply these days.
This leaves a lot of very confused people thinking they are alone in their confusion, trying to make up a bunch of answers in order to fit in with a whole bunch of other confused people who are making up answers to fit in as well.
And in today’s culture and society, we are all more confused than ever. We are being given glimpses of (or more accurately, being slapped upside the head with) the true chaos and mystery that underlies life. We are discovering that for all the knowledge that we think we’ve gained (individually or collectively), we know so little…and that our reliance upon our made-up answers is no longer working.
Millions of people are starving and suffering, societies are collapsing, wars are raging, children are being taken from their families, individuals are taking their own lives at horrifying rates, entire species are ceasing to exist, and the physical environment in which it all exists is quickly deteriorating.
Add to that issues around health insurance, politics, education, your car troubles, relationship struggles, and the traffic … it’s enough to make one’s head explode.
And yet, day after day, we just keep marching on, pretending that somehow, it is and will be all ok if we just keep doing what we’ve always done.
How in the world did faking it become the norm? My observations:
First of all, nobody wants to be seen as wrong. Each of us wants to be seen as valuable, intelligent, worthy of the company that we keep. If it seems that everyone else has answers, speaking up to say that you are confused or uncertain puts you at a disadvantage. It makes you feel less-than, childish, or a failure.
It makes you vulnerable.
Second, certainty creates community Whatever the belief, the more strongly you hold it (or can at least pretend to), the easier it is to chat endlessly with someone else about it. The easier it is to connect.
If you are certain that the earth is flat, you feel more deeply connected with someone else who espouses that same belief. (The validity of the belief doesn’t matter, of course – rather, it is the strength of conviction that draws a community closer together.)
Perhaps dangerously, because one feels more comfortable in a community, there is more communication – and thus, more assurances given to support one’s certainties. It is a self-feeding cycle.
Third, we communicate based on certainties because it makes us feel more safe and secure in our own minds. If you can speak of certainty regarding a topic or issue, it helps mask any uncertainties or contradictions you might be feeling deeper within your own thoughts.
If uncertainty makes you uneasy (as it does for most of us), talking and acting with certainty and assuredness makes things seem just a bit more … certain. Safe. Secure.
An important side note: I don’t want to imply that silence is a negative behavior. Indeed, I think we could all do with a lot more listening and a lot less talking and noise.
Instead, I want to encourage us – me, you, all of us – that when we DO speak, that we do so with vulnerability and open honesty.
I want us to share more when we feel uncertain and to speak less with righteous judgment and outspoken certainty.
Back to looking at the problem.
To help us with our ongoing confusion, we are all trying hard to find answers – and to find the community that will rally around and support us in our righteousness.
(In case you feel I'm being judgmental, I’m speaking of liberals and conservatives and right and left and all races and all cultures and all ends and variances. No groups or individuals are exempt from these behaviors.)
Facebook is a great place to observe this. Have you noticed this trend?
One person will share an opinion or a news story.
Another group of people start sharing a meme that provides a different – usually opposing - perspective on that opinion or news story.
Another group of people will then usually share a meme or story that provides yet another perspective on the original opinion or story – and this perspective is overarching, taking into accounts both previous sides, attempting to be “right” based on a view of all encompassing love or, sometimes, on saying it is all screwed up and so here is the truth.
A mass shooting happens. The story is shared with comments of prayers.
Then the memes are shared about prayers not being enough. Stories are shared on gun control. And 2nd amendment rights. Mental health advocacy.
But then posts appear that it is wrong to focus on just one of these things, that we need to take an over-arching and all-encompassing view that includes gun control and allowing guns and including prayer …
Another group of individuals contradict this, asserting that it is actually none of these things and we are all completely missing the mark.
A community shouts out: Who cares – just don’t ever try to take MY gun (and the comments follow).
An opposing community shouts back: Everyone should care – this is about our CHILDREN (and the comments follow).
(Of course, then there are the posts about, “wait, don’t get exhausted by all of this – it is just what they want! Keep fighting!”. And guilt ensues. And so on.)
Taking a breath.
Life is contradiction. It is mystery. To pretend anything else is to deny yourself the opportunity to explore and to understand.
Please .... Don't allow this to be just some large, incomprehensible concept. Bring it into your mundane life - into each challenge that you face today and tomorrow.
Allow curiosity, vulnerability, speaking up, and staying silent to be part of your daily practices.
I’m still confused, uncertain, and shaken by the growing awareness of just how confused I am.
And I’m going to keep talking about this. Being able to share the process is far more important than being able to share an answer. My answer wouldn't be your answer anyway.
We are both going through a process - this process of living, of "adulting", if you will. You are here in the confusion with me.
Stay lost with me. In this way, we'll both feel found.
This is where we begin, and this is where we return to: Expansive mystery, endless nothingness, and yet one more pile of laundry to be done.