The Soft Strength of Uncertainty

This is my third post for the Your Turn Challenge.

Progress toward my goals: A trifecta today!

  • Marathon: Behind Schedule. I failed to run this morning as I had planned to; I’ll make it up tomorrow morning.
  • Two Square Yards of Earth: Behind Schedule. No change since yesterday.
  • 100 Posts: Behind Schedule. This is my fifth post for the year, of eight planned by the end of this week.

I know a great deal more today than I did when I was 25. And I am a great deal less certain today than I was then–about almost everything. I firmly believe the two conditions are not only related, but inextricably intertwined; the more one knows, the less certain he can be about the world around him.

That may not make sense to most people. It wouldn’t have made sense to me at 25, or at 35. I was just starting to grasp the possibility at 40. Today, I’m as close to–forgive me–certain of it as I can be.

And I am a better man by far in my uncertainty than I ever was in my certainty.

Being uncertain (to the point of clueless at times) helps keep me humble. After all, when I let myself recognize that everyone I meet knows more about something than I do, it’s hard to pretend to be superior. And when I remember humility, when I ask questions and observe and try to learn what others know better than I do, I can’t help but learn.

Back when I was certain, when I knew all the facts without the bother of having to discover them for myself, I could pick and choose what I learned. I could accept only those observations that corroborated what I already knew without having to worry about those that contradicted it. I could draw conclusions that matched exactly what I already believed, without the bother of investigating or opening my mind.

As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time being wrong, often loudly and confidently. But being certain–worse, needing to be seen to be certain–prevented me from taking action to correct my misconceptions.

Today, I can correct all I want, because I no longer feel the need to be certain. I’m learning to love talking to people whose opinions and knowledge are different than mine, especially when they can express them without too much certainty themselves. I no longer perceive a threat where the reality is a simple difference in opinion or knowledge or experience.

I’d be a lousy military commander today, even worse than I was years ago. But I’m a better man than I’ve ever been, due in large part to embracing my uncertainty.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.