A Major Step Toward Learning

All of us outgrow some of our beliefs.  Katherine Schulz

 One of my favorite authors, Katherine Schulz, in her 2010 book Being Wrong, reports that most children grow up living in a yes and no world until about age five, when they learn the word maybe. She says this is the beginning of our ability to acknowledge, quantify and talk about uncertainty; and it marks a major step toward learning. Since then, adults have been creative and resourceful in expressing the concept of maybe: perhaps, probably, hypothetically, doubtful, debatable, sometimes, occasionally, conceivably, maybe, uncertain, possible, probable, feasible, likely, conceivable, thinkable, potentially. Of course I like uncertainty.

My writing has probably always been about acknowledging the reality of uncertainty and the powerful role of our beliefs. Therefore, if doubt is the act of challenging our beliefs, I consider this a major benefit. But maybe, doubt and uncertainty have other benefits. They…

  • Prevent the tyranny of certainty.
  • Lead to questions and inquiry.
  • Keep the mind open.
  • Promote vigilance, persistence and skepticism.
  • Are an essential part of being wise.
  • Facilitate learning.

The powerful role of our beliefs is cause for understanding our beliefs. If our beliefs are so powerful, we should know what they are. I believe it is fair to assume that most people don’t  know what they believe. Since beliefs become behavior, looking at one’s behavior is a good way to discover one’s beliefs.

Most of my writing about positive uncertainty is about beliefs. Believing is seeing and beliefs become prophecy. If you can imagine having only yes and no answers, you can see the virtue of maybe. Many times what we know leaves us with a lack of certainty, so we need perhaps, probably, conceivably, debatable, occasionally, etc. Of course I like uncertainty. Certainty does not lead to questions. Maybe, like uncertainty, is a step toward learning because it leads to questions.

Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing. Euripides

 Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. Voltaire




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  1. Marianne Fontana says:

    I mainly agree with your idea on uncertainty. However, during this moving process the uncertainty of a decision on what to keep and what to find another home for has been a little crazy making. In the long run, the uncertainty has allowed us time to think through the value of something, but I find there comes a time when a decision has to be made. So far there have only been a couple of items I wish we had saved, but not many and even those we can live without. This is a very difficult time.

    On recognition of this blog, adding the idea of maybe is interesting. I would never have thought a child’s world opens up to a world of grays rather than just black and white of yes or no. Very interesting blog.

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