Ambiguity and Certainty

Although we all know that we are each different we often act as if we are all alike and respond with dismay and disbelief when the reality of the difference is experienced. If that is as true for you as it is for me, than I would suggest the following observations might be useful.

We share the problems of life, the disappointments, the failures, the promises that couldn’t be kept. Where we differ is in our understanding of the causes of our distress, and the proposed solutions we find most satisfying. I say proposed solutions because if there is a solution that takes place, that automatically implies some satisfaction, whether or not it was our proposal or came from someone else. A solution to a problem removes the problem; we argue only over what is proposed because we do not trust what we do not know.

For the purposes of this discussion, I am suggesting that we each have very different tolerances for ambiguity, and very different requirements for certainty and it is those differences, as they encounter the particular problem, that we find unresolvable. Furthermore I would suggest that it is the difference in our comfort level, or lack of comfort with ambiguity that fuels the emotional fire that burns around the proposed solutions to problems which on the surface seem only to require a dispassionate cognitive analysis.

Interestingly, and perhaps counter intuitively  not only does one man’s insistence on ambiguity threaten another’s confidence in certainty, but the insistence on certainty seems to threaten the other’s confidence in ambiguity. Why else would conversations held by professionals on the subjects of their profession devolve into personal attacks on integrity as they so often do? Why else would we convert facts into sticks to smack each other with?  If I am certain in my certainty or certain in my ambiguity why does your “stubborn” opposition enflame me? If I know what I know, or know that what I know is limited, either way, your opinion of my opinion should engender  in me a curiosity about you. When that happens we can move into dialogue and may find answers different and more satisfying than what either one of us started with. When that doesn’t happen, when instead of curiosity we respond with animosity we are manifesting a vulnerability in our position and rush to defend it as we might rush to defend our sense of self. At that point we have left any attempt at problem solving.


  1. David Lee · · Reply

    As for ambiguity, what comes foggily into mind is something suggested by (Shelley?). Do you recall what I am trying to recall? It went about the virtue of being able to tolerate what was unknown.
    But on another approach, I like to think that Hermes was the first hip artist. He received a message (Point A) from Zeus and was instructed to deliver to Point B. However, brave Hermes IS, his mind remains a bit wayward. So when he gets to his destination, the original message is not exactly, even not at all, what the dethroner of Cronus had intended.

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