Living in Uncertainty

It’s been quite the week, month, year.

Do we get four more years of chaos and drama or might we return to life as we liked it, once upon a time when we lived blithely unaware of the injustices rampant just beyond our awareness?

What is this pain that Woody has been experiencing in his knee for so long?

Will the puppy we’ve chosen, to arrive the weekend after Thanksgiving, bring joy and satisfaction or chaos and exhaustion?

Will Jeffrey carry CoVid home with him now that he has a job? Will he win his asylum case?

Will our pond fill up again? Is our well destined to go dry each summer?

What will it take to get my website back up and functioning again?

It seems no matter where I turn lately, I find uncertainty.

Thanks to for the image.

There is safety, predictability, assurance in certainty. It feeds trust. We’re actually hard-wired to want certainty, and for just those reasons (trust, safety, predictability). Realizing WE DO NOT KNOW is unsettling, uncomfortable, distressing.

However, when so much feels out of our control, we can still choose what we pay attention to. Some days, for me, it must simply be my breath. And, I return each night to my gratitudes.

How easy it has become these past four years to focus on the Other. The OTHER who voted for the wrong candidate. The OTHER who uses tactics we do not like or want. The OTHER who is threatening.

While my particular mysteries will all resolve themselves in time, I know my role in each of them. I know what needs to be done and I’m doing it. While I may be uncertain, I’m not paralyzed. Of that I am confident.

But there is another mystery, a different kind of uncertainty, that hovers overhead like the early signs a migraine is coming on. And in this one, I don’t know what to do. I don’t understand my role in finding a solution. I have a good idea, but I’m not convinced it’ll work. I’m skeptical. It’s this:

What will it take to bring my country together again?

Most of you know my last book, LEAPFROG, the small manual on civil discourse, subtitled How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era. It’s a compilation of everyone else’s wisdom on such concepts as

  • the power of active listening,
  • the value in empathy,
  • the importance in making connection, and
  • the need to hold that civil conversation

It’s a book that is grounded in the idea that both sides want to have a conversation; both are equally curious. This is what I find so troubling. I’m uncertain that either side wants to talk right now. I find that unacceptable.

I find much about our current situation unacceptable. Black Lives DO Matter; women still make less then men for the same job; the military-industrial complex is more problematic than General Eisenhower predicted; I worry about the planet. Shall I go on? Nah; you get the idea.

Accepting the unacceptable is easier said than done, of course. But there is magic to be found when we can do it. Remember, we’re not accepting that our country will never come back; we’re accepting that RIGHT NOW, we are more divided as a nation than at any time in my living memory (And I was driving during the ’60s). This is the reality of this moment. Recognizing, accepting that reality, is the only way we can move ahead.

Though votes are still being counted, they are already in at record numbers. But, with each update, we recognize the count is far closer than predicted. What happened to that groundswell of “ENOUGH!” I had hoped for? I was angry, appalled, afraid. I was many things, except curious. The division is deeper and stronger than I had imagined.

Rather than raging against the tides, I had to find my curiosity. It usually does not abandon me for long. Here’s how I found it this time.

Susan Collins, Mitch McConnell, and Lindsey Graham kept their Senate seats. I was so sure the voters in those three states would have seen the light. My light. Washing my hands the other night, I asked, “What is it that the voters in Maine, Kentucky, and one of those Carolinas are getting from their Senator, to keep them in office?” (Yes, I’ve been using that 20-second time slot to check in with me these days).

I really wondered what it could possibly be. I knew it would only be my curiosity that could motivate me to hold a conversation eventually with one of them. Susan Collins’ voters are the closest, geographically and, I imagine, happy enough to be willing to talk with me.

I’m in no rush, however. I’m quite getting used to this notion of uncertainty. In fact, I’ve found great power in recognizing what the Temple University mathematician, John Allen Paulos*, has said:

So let’s learn to live with the uncertainty that has certainly surrounded us of late.

*He also said, “There’s a fine line between a numerator and a denominator.” That one always makes me laugh, which, by the way, is also an important thing to do in these times. Don’t forget to laugh. Please.

Here’s an update on LEAPFROG: I’ll be putting together an online focus group come January to
work through the small book, chapter by chapter, over a ten-month span. If you are interested in
being part of this group, let me know through the CONTACT page. Let’s see what we can learn, together.

10 Responses

  1. jan jan
    | Reply

    You said, “I really wondered what it could possibly be. I knew it would only be my curiosity that could motivate me to hold a conversation eventually with one of them. Susan Collins’ voters are the closest, geographically and, I imagine, happy enough to be willing to talk with me.”
    Here are a couple paragraphs from my friend Tim’s journal – he owns a restaurant in Ogunquit and also runs a charter fishing boat. It gives his view on Collins.

    Pre-election: We could be on the eve of losing Susan Collins as our Federal Senator representing Maine to a girl from Rhode Island who’s name is Sarah Gideon. You can say what you want about term limits but Senator Collins has put herself in a great position to be the lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. This would be a wonderful thing for Maine. That committee writes the Federal budget. Maine will drop back to zero with Mrs. Gideon. And it will take a long time to get to the position where Senator Collins resides. I’ve worked with Senator Collins directly or indirectly over the years on fishery issues where she has been extremely helpful to recreational anglers and commercial fishermen alike hamstringed by Federal fishery regulations. She has been the perfect leader in this regard. She has also been an objective observer and knows when to get in and get out of certain situations. And if you see those fake ads on TV against Senator Collins with Bath Ironworks in the background, making you think that she hasn’t helped Maine get the Federal money for certain projects. All bull. She has kept the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Bath Ironworks going, providing family jobs and prospering for many years. To me, Maine values start at the top of the state and work down. Senator Collins is from Caribou Maine, the part of the state where business is still done with a handshake. Where honesty is the best policy. Sara Gideon is from Rhode Island, grew up in Rhode Island, went to school in Rhode Island and got married in Rhode Island. Then she moved to Freeport, Maine. I don’t think she has been here for ten years. She doesn’t know my Maine. And I’ll be willing to bet that she doesn’t even know what a pollock looks like. I have been proud of what Senator Collins has done for us in Maine. I certainly hope she stays there. Good government works best when we have checks and balances. I know that there will probably be more liberal politicians elected to Congress and the Senate. Senator Collins would be a good one to remain if this happens. I’m a Democrat but I’m for Susan Collins all the way. Sometimes you just have to do what is right for the state.

    Wednesday morning:
    Just before the ride, I learned that Senator Collins retained her seat in the Senate, representing Maine. I was really so happy about this. I know from working with her and her staff over the years that she is a great friend of Joe Biden’s. Assuming Joe wins the Presidency, which it looks certain that he will, it will be great to have someone as bypartisan as Senator Collins to work with him. My feeling for those who didn’t vote for her were that they were selfish, putting their own interests ahead of the needs of Maine, were not from the State of Maine, were too narrow minded to see the big picture, couldn’t understand the position that President Trump put her in and that they truly didn’t know her and know that she represents true Maine values. She has been good for our state and, because of her tenure in the Senate, is in a great position to really help Maine from the federal level. I never thought that Senator Collins would have a problem holding her seat in the Senate a year ago. But it’s amazing how a third of a billion dollars of money from outside the state can effect things. I’m just glad it didn’t have the effect that outsiders wanted. I don’t know about you but I’m sick of having Senators and Congressmen from outside the state representing us.

    And another note: C Street vs. the Family… The Family does not really cover the situation in Uganda. C Street has an entire section of the book that is exclusively about Uganda, much of it from Uganda, pages 129 – 203. And the movie doesn’t even come close to the truth. Yes, it is hard reading, very scary.
    And, FYI, I, too, was member of an evangelical church as a kid… a Gospel Tabernacle in Maine. I was also, once upon a time a Republican. Hopefully, I have grown up! İnşallah!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That’s really interesting, Jan. Thank you. As with many conversations, each “lap” raises new questions. I was taught in high school history class (I can still see that teacher, a young blonde woman with gigantic thick black rimmed glasses.) and the teacher saying that Americans (1) always vote their pocket book and (2) never want to vote for something they think is smarter than they are. I have no idea where she got her information, but I’ve not forgotten. This seems to support that first one. I’d love to further ask him what the nationwide issues are that he cares about. Oh well.

      I am intrigued with the final paragraph. I have seen The Family and recall their brief mention of Uganda. I’ll have to get a copy of the book. Thanks for that too.

  2. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    We always have lived with uncertainty, it’s just that we’ve been able to deny that reality more easily before tRump et al + social media arrived on the scene. Not that I like doing so, but I accept the uncertainty with as much equanimity as I can. Plus I still believe that it’s “WE the People,” not “Us versus Them the People” so hope is alive within me. Some forgiveness, too.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Kudos, Ally. I resonate with We the people. Who might ever have envisioned the power social media would have? It’s a Wild West scenario still. Uncertainty and the ability to hold two competing ideas at one time — signs of an educated and mature mind. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    My contribution to sobriety, honesty, balance, justice (Pick one or more) is a blog post this week featuring an elderly white person and a young, black woman:

    I agree with Ally: Uncertainty has always been with us; it’s just more pronounced now. Recently, addressing the multiplicity of challenges this year, I heard someone say, “2020 is a complete sentence.” Just as when we say “September 11” – everyone (except the very young) knows exactly what we mean.

    Very timely, Janet!

  4. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    It’s the million dollar question, no? — i.e., what will it take to bring the country back together again? This has been on my mind since well before 2016, and I still don’t have a good answer. I remain convinced that the core of the problem is our divided media, including social media, and the alternative factual universes they present (and accompanying narratives). We (those of us on the right and left) simply believe in different truths. I feel good about my truths since they consider and encompass science, journalism, academia, and the like. Yet, those on the right also feel good about theirs. They place little credence in mine, and I likewise place little credence in theirs. It’s virtually impossible to have meaningful dialogue, I find, without somehow penetrating this informational and narrative divide. But how? Empathy seems a good place to start, but I fear it’s not enough. Understanding the underpinnings of ideology may help, too, but ideology generally abhors reason and dialogue. If I’m honest, it’s even harder for me, now, than it was four years ago, to empathize with and seek understanding of people who enthusiastically embraced an autocratic demagogue for four years, and policies and positions that were divisive, discriminatory, inhumane, cruel, and threatening to democracy. And yet I know many otherwise decent people who did exactly this. (Or, at least people I’ve always believed were decent. These past four years have strained my faith in humanity to near its limit). Yet I know that humanity is always the right answer. Humanity. But now I’m just rambling…

    On a less ramble note, “will the puppy we’ve chosen, to arrive the weekend after Thanksgiving, bring joy and satisfaction or chaos and exhaustion?” From recent experience, I would definitively answer “yes!”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for the heads up on the puppy, Tim. With woody now on crutches/cane for the foreseeable future, I’m second guessing our decision. We’d told the rescue organization that we wanted an adult, 2-4 years old, housebroken, and cat friendly (the closest we could get to chicken friendly). Then the puppy showed up on our radar. We’ve been looking for two years. Then there’s that “just say yes” idea I like so much. One step in front of the other, the song says. I can do that. J has never had a pet before, never mind helping to train a puppy. I like to think it’ll be fun for him. Time will tell.

  5. Joan Z Rough
    | Reply

    Uncertainty is part of the deal we sign up for here in earth school. I must admit though that this past year has been particularly horrible in that department. As of just about an hour ago it was announced that Joe Biden will be our next president. I am more than ecstatic and I’m feeling more at peace than I have in a great while.

    However, we must remember that having Joe and Kamala in office, we will still live in uncertainty. We don’t know what the Orange Man will do in the days before he has to leave the white house. We don’t yet understand how hard it will be to bring back our beloved democracy and the freedom we all fight for.

    If we haven’t learned to live with uncertainty by now we will learn how in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. The work ahead of us will be hard and at times unimaginable. It already is. Look at where we’ve been.

    Along with the good that is headed our way, there will be the bad. Living in uncertainty is part of the package but I’m in for the long haul with hope for the oh, so many healing possibilities.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      The trick for me has been to refrain from grabbing onto a solution only because the uncertainty is uncomfortable. You know, jumping off that high dive too quickly. It’s still my challenge. I appreciate you adding your thoughts here Joan. Here’s to lounging in the uncertainty.

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