As we navigate uncertain times, we find different ways to cope with our exposed vulnerabilities. The author offers a personal perspective of embracing uncertainty by staying hopeful, inquisitive, and realistic.
This essay was originally published on Thrive Global. Photo credit Brett Jordan on Unsplash.
I am uncertain about many things in my life: will my residence permit be extended? Would we have to move again? When will the borders open, and I will be able to see my ailing Mom? Not having the answers makes me feel helpless, out of control, disoriented. Gut-wrenching, refresh-button-clicking, uncertainty manifests itself in pessimistic thoughts and obsessions. Through unsolved fears, I come to the bittersweet awareness of my vulnerability.
As a student, I bit my nails awaiting the results of (many) life-altering examinations. As a mother, I walked into a labor room not knowing the future person my baby would become. As a diver, I submerge into the ocean uncertain of the potential dangers ahead. We fear uncertainty and dislike our own fragility. What if things don’t work out? Some people turn to spirituality to find control and stability; some overanalyze, predict, rationalize the universe; others use Tarot cards and future-telling. What carries us through uncertainty and helps realize “the beauty of transience” is hope.
“Hope — and the wise, effective action that can spring from it — is the counterweight to the heavy sense of our own fragility. It is a continual negotiation between optimism and despair, a continual negation of cynicism and naïveté,” writes a popular contemporary literary blogger Maria Popova on brainpickings.org.
Sometimes, when the wait is too long and excruciating, I like to play the ostrich game—tuck my head in the sand. Pretend not to see the reality, wait it out, go with the flow. It will be just fine, they say.
Researchers use the term “ostrich effect” when people avoid getting new information as they fear it will cause more psychological discomfort in already uncertain situations. In other words, we “put our heads in the sand” to shield ourselves from further news. In contrast, given favorable news, we seek out definitive information.
An Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke in his “Letters to a Young Poet” wrote: “…I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to be with everything that is unsolved in your heart and to try to cherish the questions themselves, like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue. Do not search now for the answers, which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.”
But I can’t wait for long. I despise the inactivity; I don’t get the “art of waiting.” I am curious and restless. Stopped at a traffic light, I will glance at it a dozen times. Does it reduce my anxiety? Give me more control? Research is on my side: “Intelligent animals…show intrinsic curiosity … in their desire to reduce uncertainty.” The Indian philosopher Krishnamurti also remarked that “the highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating.”
“I have no special talents, I am just passionately curious “- Albert Einstein.
While hope shows me the light at the end of the tunnel, it does not tell me which cobblestones to step on. Curiosity encourages me to walk forward, keep busy, try new routes. It expands my mind and makes me love the road. Without fully understanding where I go, I watch the path unfolding and find joy in it. I realize the temporality of our life and “live in the presence.”
“If threatened while sitting on the nest, which is simply a cavity scooped in the earth, the hen presses her long neck flat along the ground, blending with the background. Ostriches, contrary to popular belief, do not bury their heads in the sand.” – The Canadian Museum of Nature.
So I do want to be an ostrich, after all. I strive to observe with curiosity but not evaluate, learn but not judge. I can learn to blend in, stay realistic rather than optimistic. I will fight my fears without feeding my biases. I want to embrace uncertainty.