Living in Radical Uncertainty

Martha Bartter


Do you feel that you have full control of your life circumstances?—full control of yourself, not to mention those you live with?

Do you feel that you should?

If you hope for full "control"—even of yourself—you reach for something not only impossible but self-defeating. We do not live in a world that offers certainty. No amount of technical expertise or scientific advance can possibly remove the uncertainties of life. ("Absolute certainty" comes only in absolute stasis: death without hope of either decay or resurrection.)

So how can we manage to live in a world that keeps changing around us? For that matter, how can we manage to live with our own continually-changing selves?

We must use our senses in a new way: to detect what goes on in and around us now, without expecting it to seem "the same" as it did before. We should approach life as a continual surprise, and remember that though some surprises feel unpleasant, some surprises please us immensely. (Assuming that "surprise" equals "bad" takes most of the fun out of living.)

We may find it strange and difficult to refuse to label our reactions to life's surprises until we have a chance to assimilate their consequences. This injunction strikes at the very root of behavior patterns our culture expects and encourages: instant judgments, and assigning of blame.

To strike at the root (radix) of a cultural pattern or set of assumptions requires us to make a radical change. But we need to make a radical change if we hope to begin to live in the "real" world instead of the "safe" world our culture keeps pretending we live in. Living in radical uncertainty strikes at the very roots of what we believe that we "know" and frees us to observe and react to the world we detect with our senses.

Most importantly, we should keep the construct of time-binding in view. We build on the achievements of past generations, but we have a continuing obligation to all living things to keep adding to those achievements. Furthermore, we hold this world in trust for generations yet to come—and we must not allow our desire for "safety" and "control" to threaten their opportunities.

Every non-human "critter" lives always in radical uncertainty, without fussing about it. We humans can—and should—do so as well.

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