Day Twenty-Four: Ambiguity

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I went to a very unusual k-12 school for most of my education. The best way to describe it, without getting too far into it, is to say that it is a free-range curriculum. It’s even called the Walkabout Program.

In order to graduate, in addition to six large and often intensely personal projects, we had to meet, at the time, 27 graduation expectations. These, of course, included basic proficiencies such as literacy and numeracy. But there was a host of other things we were expected to learn and experience, categorized into personal, social, and intellectual domains. Things like accepting and giving help and thinking critically.

One of these expectations has stuck with me strongly, and is something I feel I work on continually. It was phrased as the ability to tolerate ambiguity. Just learning to think about it and acknowledge that it is a challenging part of life at a young age has been of great value.

I’ve done a lot of things in my life that were fraught with uncertainty. I spent an academic year in Nairobi, Kenya, and covered NATO war games as a student journalist. But now the uncertainty isn’t just mine. It’s not so much that I don’t know what is going to happen in my life. In fact, on a day to day basis, I’m pretty sure I’ll be home getting some work done, and going for a walk or a run. But what is going to happen in the world is a huge vortex of uncertainty right now.

This is like learning to tolerate ambiguity expanded by a couple orders of magnitude.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Wall Street had learned about tolerating ambiguity in high school?

Dealing with this level of uncertainty can be excruciatingly anxious. We all want to know what is going to happen next. We all feel a sense of looming threat. The question becomes, how can we re-frame it?

Ask yourself, what if things get better because of this?

There is some possibility that our society will develop the political will to address some of the gaping holes in our social safety net, due to this horrific situation. There is a chance that creative entrepreneurs are, as we speak, developing ideas that will lead to job growth in sectors that don’t exist yet. There is a chance that some of the ceasefires declared because of the virus will become permanent. There is a chance that this will wake us all up to the incremental disaster that is climate change. There is a chance that we will come out of this better, and more united, nationally and globally.

Here’s hoping, and in the meantime we can all learn to tolerate ambiguity together.

Signing off. Take care, and take care of one another.

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