The older I get, the more I know just how much I don’t know.
There are countless things in this life that we simply cannot know. The best we can do is guess. What is the best path for my life? What will become of me? What will happen tomorrow? Is there a God? What happens when we die? Who is right? Who is wrong? The answers to these and more questions are obscured by the “cloud of unknowing” of which contemplatives speak.
And that’s okay.
I listen with quiet bemusement when someone explains to me “how things are” with the confidence of someone who has it all figured out. I know better than to contradict them; confident people are usually quite entrenched, and either unwilling, or unable to visualize any reasonable alternative to what they consider to be the hard facts. So I just listen and smile and nod and save my breath.
Certainty can be an impediment to truth.
But I know from experience that very little in this world is clearly one thing or another. Most questions have multiple answers. Two apparently opposite things can both be true. A thing can be wrong and right at the same time. You can love and hate someone in equal measure. You can laugh while you’re depressed. Ideas that we always assumed were fundamental can turn out to be fictitious.
Admittedly, that’s a hard thing to live with.
Our culture is not very tolerant of ambiguity. We tend to admire people who are confident. We are, perhaps, reassured by their conviction that they have everything figured out. It would be a lot easier to think that we know all the answers.
It takes a lot of strength of character to be able to admit that we might be wrong. Especially when we think we have it all figured out. When we are absolutely certain. But that’s the time when it’s most important to take a mental step back, and consider… just consider… the possibility that we might be wrong.
To be willing to live with ambiguity is considered by some to be a hallmark of maturity. I don’t know whether it is maturity or not. But I do know that certainty is the opposite of faith. Certainty can be an impediment to truth.
Embracing ambivalence is not easy. To consider a question and see that there might be more than one valid answer is challenging. And yes, sometimes we have to take a stand. But maybe if we admit that our stand is based on a best guess, and keep open the possibility that it might turn out to be wrong, it would create just enough of a crack in our armor to let the truth leak in.