We’ve all heard the comment that life is what happens while we’re busy making plans. And that when men start to make plans, god laughs.
And there is a lot of truth in that. As a species, humans tend to like certainty, they like to know where they are going, and how they are going to get there. I do it myself, all the time, I double-check railway timetables, I meticulously plan out my route on Google Maps – even to the point of ‘driving’ the last mile or so on-screen in ‘street view’, so I can recognise it when I get there. I like to know where I am.
But there’s a problem with that: if something goes wrong, maybe a diversion, or a missed turn, I’m completely lost. If I approach from a different direction, I can’t recognise where I am, as my destination. And that’s the same with those other plans we make – life gets in the way. And other people. Those plans we carefully lay out don’t quite work out, and we end up flummoxed.
It is often said that the human mind is a meaning-making machine. It is constantly seeking to make sense of the world around it, and that’s what makes us so curious about ourselves and the world we operate in. The trouble comes when we think we have to come up with “the answer” – then we are setting ourselves up to fail. You see, an answer is a conclusion. An ending. A limit. The word conclusion comes from the Latin concludere, ‘to close in’. It precludes anything else that isn’t it.
And the world doesn’t work that way, it is constantly changing. So even if we might have been right last month (or last week; or yesterday; or 10 minutes ago), we are almost certainly not right now. The world has moved on. And if we have made that ‘Answer’ the only result that we can equate with success, then we are doomed to fail, over and over again.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we should stop being curious – far from it. It is that curiosity that leads us to find the great questions that will move us forward. What I am suggesting is that we are best served by focussing not on the answer, but on the question, by embracing our inability to find a definitive answer, by relishing the fact that a fluid, variable, exciting world precludes ever arriving at a final solution. What I am suggesting is that we learn to enjoy living in the question, allowing that to lead us through a rich experience of life, one that never will find ‘the answer’.
To find a certainty of adventure by delighting in uncertainty!