Living with Ambiguity
Terry Goodkind in his Sword of Truth fantasy series writes about the Wizard’s First Rule (paraphrased by me): the two easiest things to make people believe are that which they most hope to be true, and that which they most fear to be true.
I’ve noticed this to be true in myself: say there is an uncollapsed wave of probability in my life — a job that I’ve applied for and haven’t heard back yet whether I’ve gotten it or not, a person I’m interested in and don’t know yet if they’re interested in me or not, lava that may or may not cut off my road access — I find myself most often flip-flopping between imagining the very best possible outcome and the very worst possible outcome. In the case of wondering whether someone likes me, I might oscillate from thinking they adore me and we’ll make babies together to thinking they hate me and think I’m gross. Each outcome can seem likely, even inexorable, when I’m thinking about it, even though the two are diametrically opposed, probably because my emotions heighten and color the imaginations so powerfully.
Because of my awareness of Wizard’s First Rule, I can now remind myself that the most likely future or outcome is NEITHER ONE of the two extremes; that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of other possibilities as likely or more likely to be true, and that the frequency or emotional intensity with which I return to the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario has nothing to do with its likelihood of occurring, and everything to do with my own psychological make-up.
Humans have to live with ambiguity and ambivalence all the time, yet it can be unpleasant and un-grounding to feel that ambiguity and ambivalence. I recently read that all truth is a paradox, and my current model of reality is that humans are spirit and flesh combined, so I don’t see us really resolving those feelings of ambiguity or ambivalence anytime soon, unless it’s by willfully shutting out half of reality to make us feel more comfortable in our skin.
Maybe that’s what humanity’s natural amnesia is for — to shut out the part of reality that remembering in that moment would distract us from accomplishing what we desire to accomplish. I learned from a friend two nights ago that people with fewer connections between the right and left hemispheres of their brains can focus better because they are only using half the brain at a time; people with more connections between the two halves of their brains are better at multi-tasking. Apparently for some jobs that require focus, half a brain is better than a whole one.
My sense is that although focus can be a very useful tool, there is something mature about being able to hold ambiguity and encompass paradox in one human being. Sometimes I think that that is what all my personal growth is leading to, eventually. When I can hold ALL the truth in myself — accept, understand, integrate and transcend both sides of every binary pole of opposites, from love and fear to flesh and spirit to good and evil to strength and weakness — then I can be a master of life and a truly powerful human being. Until then, I just keep observing, gathering information, noticing patterns, and reminding myself that the truth most likely lies somewhere else besides the extreme ends of my mental spectrum.