In Unpredictable Times, Our Greatest Enemy Is Our Need for Certainty
It’s understandable why many of us reached an extreme level of fear and anxiety about Donald Trump becoming President of the United States. Donald Trump made comments during the campaign that scared us, including comments we thought were racist, misogynist, xenophobic and anti-environmental. His rhetoric was so frightening that many people came to believe that in order for everything to be okay, Hillary Clinton needed to win. We told that story to ourselves, to our children and to anyone else who would listen. Pre-election, Hillary Clinton’s win became the only possible outcome we could imagine in order to feel safe and secure. Now here we are one week after the election, and the one thing we thought we needed for our survival, security and well-being did not happen.
At any given time, much of our suffering comes not from the moment we are in, but instead from our projection of what will happen in the future. In reality, we have no idea what will happen next. We never have and never will. Don’t get me wrong, based on many things that were said during the campaign, it is very clear that people need to act today to fight for what they believe in, whether it be women’s rights, the rights of minorities, or clean energy. But beyond this moment, we really have no idea what will happen tomorrow, next week or next year.
The good news is that uncertainty about the future can actually be our best friend and our liberator. Not knowing what will happen next leaves us open not solely to doom and gloom, but to other possibilities as well. For example, MAYBE more people will join political organizations and be more active in government and in their communities. MAYBE more people will run for office. MAYBE things will get worse and then get better. MAYBE a Trump presidency will be a mixed bag of good and bad. MAYBE everything will still be okay. And MAYBE this is the result we needed to unite and make the changes we want to see. The point is that we don’t know and our not knowing is the basis for our hope. It is the foundation for us to resist clinging to our sorrow and fear of tomorrow, and instead to place our feet firmly on the ground today. It is a call to action based on what we know in the present as opposed to projecting our worst fears and anxieties. Negative projections about the future just make us sick. Projections of our fear and worry make it possible that we will not find the strength and resilience needed in the coming months and years ahead.
Part of living in the open space of “not knowing”, is also not grasping at certainty. It was very interesting to witness people’s reactions to the stock market increases since the election and Donald Trump’s meeting with President Obama at the White House. It made some people feel safer and more certain about the stability of the market and prospects for a Trump presidency, but safety and certainty are feelings that can make us complacent. Sure, it was nice the two had a friendly and professional meeting, which may have even brought some hope for the future, but we should not confuse HOPE with our need for CERTAINTY. When we feel we’ve achieved our goal of certainty, we tend to want to stay home and watch television instead of helping our neighbors, fighting for new gun legislation, advocating for equal pay or working toward other important goals. Often, when we feel certain, we aren’t active and don’t vote. When we feel certain, we don’t fight for the things that are important because we think they will always be there or that things are good enough so we don’t need to get involved. Well, if this election has taught us anything, it’s that there is no certainty. We may be lucky to come to this realization today because if we truly want the world to change we will need new ideas and new leaders. Our complete openness to the unknown future is the path where these new possibilities exist.
So hang on to the Maybe. Stay present and take action regarding the issues that are important to you. Don’t get sidetracked by encouraging speeches and don’t get wiped out by new legislation you oppose. Carry on with the knowledge that nothing is certain, everything changes and MAYBE everything can still be okay and MAYBE even get better in time!
Originally Published In Psychology Today