Ambiguity and the Quest for Right

I used to be very very uncomfortable with the idea of ambiguity. That is to say, I was addicted to the idea of being ‘right’. I had to get that A. I had to be on the honor roll. I had to have the answer to the question.

And more then that, I had to believe in something 100% or not at all. When I was a teenager, I decided I was agnostic. Why? Because I didn’t feel like the church had all the answers. The irony, of course, is that agnosticism is just about the most ambiguity choice when it comes to religion. I couldn’t buy atheism either; not 100%. There seemed to be ‘something’ behind everything. I have always had the sense that ‘every thing happens for a reason’. And so far, science has not be able to explain that for me.

Anyway, my point is that I very much tried to live my life in the ‘right’. I strived to either made the right decision or have the right answer. If I felt the debate was too many shades of gray (like religion) I would opt for ‘no answer, thank you.’ Ambiguity wasn’t my friend. Unless I actively choose ambiguity as a cop-out.

In highschool there is a winner of the debate. When your on the debate team, at least. Problems come with an answer. A gold star. A grade. A check mark on the page.

In life, conversation, discourse, disagreement do not lead to a winner. Debates rage on and on and on. Sometimes our whole culture or society shift in one way or an other. But this doesn’t happen from one debate, it is a result of many many many small, short interactions that slowly change people’s minds. It is a result of new and different life experiences that shape our perspective. Everything around us and everything that happens shape our society. Tiny tiny increments at a time.

And it is in this knowledge that I have become more and more comfortable with not having the right answer. Changing my opinion. Considering multiple perspectives as partially valid all at once. So many things hold value and meaning for me. I can’t just pick one.

Did you know that I don’t have a favourite book, or meal, or color (well, maybe green) or song or day of the year or anything like that. How could anyone pick a faviourite? One thing against all similar categories of things that holds more meaning for them then anything else? I just can’t do it.

But that’s just the thing. Identifying or aligning oneself with one thing, one choice, one perspective, does not negate the possibility of finding meaning in something else as well. You can find yourself drawn to one thing, while still recognizing that it has its faults, downsides, missing links, and holes. You can believe something and at the same time think, ‘maybe that’s wrong….’

Despite our politics which says ‘flip flopping’ is the ultimate sign of a weak politician, I see flip flopping as the ultimate sign of openness. Of respect for the value of the perspectives and ideas that others bring to the table. I believe it is a sign of maturing (at least me maturing) to the point at which the goal is not ‘right’ the goal is simply to understand within the limitations of the extent to which we can understand. There is no one answer. Life is about the interaction of millions and millions of little tiny ‘answers’ that all criss-cross and over lap and wind around each other to paint a picture of what is ‘reality’. Or at least reality for you.

So I am embracing the ambiguity. The nuance. Having an opinion but recognizing that I ‘think’ I do not ‘know’.

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4 responses to “Ambiguity and the Quest for Right

  1. The Disgruntled Academic November 29, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Identifying or aligning oneself with one thing, one choice, one perspective, does not negate the possibility of finding meaning in something else as well.

    Hear, hear!

    I think the notion of “flip-flopping” was applied to you totally out of context and, as is often the case in conversation, used inappropriately and unfairly. When accusing someone of flip-flopping, it isn’t simply pointing to a contradiction, it’s an accusation of a lack of integrity. When John Kerry was accused of “flip-flopping” in the 2004 presidential election, the accusation wasn’t that he just changed his mind, it was that he changed his mind for personal gain and popularity, demonstrating a lack of integrity.

    My point is, if I say the sky is blue, and then later someone says “well, at sunset the sky can be pink,” I can and will change my mind and say that sometimes the sky is blue and sometimes it’s orange and sometimes it’s black. That doesn’t indicate a lack of integrity, that shows nuance, creative thinking, and honesty — the reasons why I come back to your blog day after day.

  2. janetlansbury November 29, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Wise words! The more I learn the less I know…

  3. SlackerInc November 30, 2010 at 2:38 am

    Whatever made you think of this topic, Kathleen? ;0)

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