Not Knowing

  To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous.                                    The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.   Socrates

 These Socrates’ quotes stimulated me to write this blog. Here is someone, wiser than me, more well-known than me, who I think would agree with my “Positive Uncertainty” strategy. Maybe now more people will pay attention. Who would disagree with Socrates? Uncertainty and not knowing apparently have always been with us. How will they be in the future?

During Socrates’ time the past was known, the future was predictable, and the present was changing at a pace that was comprehensible. Today the past is not always what we thought it to be, the present is changing as never before and the future is no longer predictable. How we deal with such uncertainty and unknowns will determine our future

I have promoted being positive about uncertainty, the benefit of doubt, the dangers of dogma, and being comfortable not knowing. These beliefs and behaviors will be required for dealing with the future of uncertainty. I think our ability to change our minds will determine our success. My 1989 positive uncertainty decision making strategy was: Become as capable of change as the environment.

Herein lies the problem: Probably changing one’s mind is more unpopular than uncertainty. Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind  and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof. John Kenneth Galbraith. Because we don’t like change, we of course do like certainty. And we are negative about uncertainty.

The future doesn’t exist, so the future of positive uncertainty doesn’t exist. No one knows what it will be. The future world is expected to bring more complexity with more unknown. Therefore: Being comfortable and positive about uncertainty, and the unknown; and becoming as capable of change as the environment will be good future strategy.

By definition, positive means: a good, affirmative, or constructive quality or attribute;  desirable, admirable, or beneficial. In the simplest sense, positive means good or the opposite of negative. To be negative about uncertainty is to be positive about certainty, (or to be ridiculous, Socrates.) The reason uncertainty about the future is good, is because it is true. The future is not predictable, unknown. How can you be certain about the unknown?

Realizing how Socrates, long before me and my positive uncertainty, felt the same way about uncertainty and not knowing, reinforces my beliefs. It may also influence some of my readers. A positive future for us will depend on how many of us agree with Socrates. And how many can change to become comfortable (free from stress or anxiety, at ease) and positive with uncertainty and with not knowing.

Certainty is an intellectual vice.  Bertram Russell



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  1. Marianne Fontana says:

    I understand the importance of being able to change one’s mind when new information helps you see a different answer. I sometimes find it hard to admit to changing my mind for fear of being seen as being “wrong”. I need to learn to be proud of a change if it is because I find new information to help me see the need to change my view on a subject. That means learning it is ok to change and even be ok with being “wrong”. I guess that is learning to be more adult.

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