Not Knowing Intensified

Yesterday I watched a news broadcast on relief efforts from hurricanes that have ravaged Puerto Rico. This particular broadcast featured a 30-something man and his young teen daughter. The footage showed devastation. Trees fallen. Power lines down. Roofs blown away. Debris scattered everywhere. Despite all of this the man was in pretty good spirits. He described hunkering down in peak hurricane in one room of his home, a very simple home, and then scurrying to another room with his daughter when the roof was ripped away by the winds above them.

The story continued to describe how much “not knowing” the man was in. Prior to this news crew arrival, there had been no outside contact. Roads were mostly still collapsed or filled with devastation. Cell service was non-existent. Water supplies were gone. The news crew loaned this man a satellite phone so that he could call his mother. It was then that he wept uncontrollably, hearing her voice, feeling relief for a moment from one category of his worry born from not knowing.

I feel for these people in the level of not knowing that they are experiencing. Period. There is work to be done. Recovery to be supported. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.

I also want to suggest that “not knowing” is amplifying these days. For many, basic conditions of safety are diminishing. Climate change seems to call forth on a weekly basis references to “one hundred year storms” and the devastation that comes from that. And though predictive models have really become more sophisticated, climate is still a bunch of unknown, right. Terrorist acts are being committed in small and large crowds in sites where the primary purpose of being is joy and community. How on earth can you account for every room of every 30 story building that overlooks an outdoor concert. “Unknown” is scaling.

“Knowing” has always been an illusion for me. It’s a construct that grows naturally out of a paradigm of that privileges prediction, control, and certainty. Just like “perfection” is a construct. It’s attractive. Even seductive. But it’s more of a convenience than an honesty when you think of it. “Not knowing” feels so much more honest to me. But because “knowing” has had its foothold for so long in the human psyche (thank goodness for eastern traditions that have a different relationship with knowing), “not knowing on the rise” is feeding a lot of panic, fear, worry, and amplified reaction. It’s like we’ve come to feed off of “knowing and the perception of knowing,” like we would the farmers potato field. Now in this context of “scaled not knowing,” we are reacting like we’ve lost our crop. And thus our livelihood. And thus our security. And thus our place.

Shit! It’s full, isn’t it.

I want to suggest that “not knowing” isn’t new. It’s well-masked so that it feels new. But we humans still are familiar with it — whether intellectually, emotionally, or genetically in the recesses of our DNA that has always had to adapt to what is unknown. We laugh at not knowing what number might come up in a game of bingo or cards. Many welcome not knowing gender when a child is being born. Many get quiet and still when approaching the death of a loved one. “One never knows” is also part of our narrative.

We need to remember this now in these days when our emotions of fear and panic run away with us, shouting internally and externally that we will never know what to do. Humans do good to stick together. What’s being called forward now — one of the things — is to hold each other in our not knowing. To find the relief of not just finding a loved one, but coming to love the honesty of not knowing that grows us all.


Nobody Knows

Everywhere I go, I meet people who are learning to lean in to the reality that most of our environments are just too complex to know completely. It doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything. It does mean that nobody can know everything.

My work, on the surface, is mostly process consulting and facilitation. That body of work grows from an acknowledgement that work and life are pretty involved and require us to go together. It’s an evolutionary step. And it’s one that contradicts so much of what many of us have been taught. Just like the gents in the cartoon above, we been taught to not say it out loud, and to mask “not knowing.”

Let’s face it. Not knowing, and the ability to own that as a step of vitality is essential these days. Relearning how we go together, without diminishing individual ability, yet contributing to sustainable, “go further” approaches only found in community (or team) — that’s the work of these days.

And beneath the surface of that, it’s just rather human to human adventure isn’t it. Sometimes I feel like I know a lot about that. Sometimes, even in knowing a lot, I can feel that I’m just beginning.

“Knowing” is a verb of continuous engagement. Not an item on the list to tick off. There’s the secret that many of us are trying to make not a secret.

Offended By Certainty?

I’m offended by certainty. No, seriously. And irritated. It’s worse than an itchy rash that I can’t not scratch.

I’m not sure I’ve ever known enough of why I’m so offended by certainty — it is practically revered as much as chocolate in this world, and how could you ever be offended by chocolate — but I can track it back to my teens. I wouldn’t have said it that way back then. I just had the spidey senses to feel that something was fundamentally weird about grandstanding “knowing.” I remember a conversation with a cousin who was quite religiously certain, asking her if she was certain the color of chair in front of us was brown, and then making a case that it was more maroon colored. Something in me wanted to mess with the certainty.

I’ve told myself everything from “I’m bratty and stubborn” to “I have an authority complex (that is obviously completely legitimate).” My attitude has been everything between humble and revering of complexity to self-righteous and indignant.

I may be getting closer to a key understanding. My “aha” that seems to be moving in for the long haul is that “there is so much more unseen, I believe, in this existence, this glorious existence, than seen.” Always. In relationships. In emotional history. In objective observation (the instrument effects the reality of what is being measured). In complexity of wholes where at best, we get a part of the whole. When more is unseen than seen, it renders certainty absurd, like claiming that this round, spinning, floating in space, world is flat. Or denying climate change.

Certainty, so revered or bullied into being, often from the masculine — it’s different than clarity, which is what certainty often masquerades as. How can you not want that, right?

Perhaps we’d all do good to develop more of a relationship and familiarity with uncertainty and the unseen. With questions rather than answers. With wonderings rather that ultimatums. Certainty, with all of it’s bravado, more often creates battle lines over which we go to war. And that doesn’t pass the spidey sense test either, does it.

In my work with groups, one of my hopes is to dislocate us (and me)  from our certainty. It doesn’t actually take that much to do it when working with participatory process. It’s different that the absoluteness that can be delivered from the front of the room, the head of the table, the podium, or the pulpit. I want people to develop an acceptance with “not knowing,” with being able to adapt to an environment that is dynamic and changing. I want people to develop ability and expectation to never know it all, to never be able to manipulate it all, and yet within that awareness, choose experiments and things to try that offer some good.

I think I’m learning to get beyond my irritation. That’s just simple growing up stuff with a big fat welcome sign to an increasingly apparent land that says, “You Are Not Revered For Your Certainty.” No offense needed.