Uncertainty

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Credit: flickr / tankgirlrs
A while ago I got into a slightly drunken argument. I’d had two martinis, so not what you’re thinking – I was mostly tipsy and mellow. But I was sitting next to someone whose position I thought was intellectually bankrupt, and I didn’t pretend to have any respect for it. Nor did I walk away.

That wasn’t like me. Topics that men (it’s usually men) have patronized me on lately: women’s reproductive rights (I love it when men have strong feelings on the rights of women over their own bodies, I wonder how they would feel if we tried to legislate theirs), feminism (by someone who can be a bit of a sexist jerk), the pointlessness and time-wasting nature of testing (by someone whose code has just been revealed to be not working), and how influence on Twitter should be measured (by someone who didn’t use Twitter because it is pointless). I was once berated for writing code for a personal project in Java by some guys (isn’t it always) who had discovered the One True Way of rails.

I don’t expect to like everyone I meet, but I do (try) expect everyone I meet to be someone who I will like. Of course, this isn’t always the case and so the ability to escape is useful. The thing guaranteed to have me murmuring “must circulate”, or “oh there’s X – sorry, must dash” is utter certainty combined with ignorance.

Writing the women in leadership article, I had horrific writers block. I couldn’t be sure what I wanted to say, because so far I feel like I only have questions – no real answers. I did a lot of research and gathered it all together in a way that I hoped would represent my thoughts on the issue, but it was lacking coherence – which makes sense, considering how unformed my own ideas are. The editor and I talked about it, and instead I wrote something in the first person, and I saw in my writing – so many qualifying statements, “maybe”, “perhaps”, “I’ve found” – so few definite statements.

In general, I really distrust definite statements that don’t have data to back them up. Finding myself on a career panel I ended up citing books: Stumbling Upon Happiness (Amazon) re: commuting making people miserable. Drive (Amazon) re: intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, or if you’re doing it for the money you won’t do it as well. I love that Study Hacks is debunking the nonsense myth of “follow your passion” with instead great advice on creating your passion – and showing that depth rather than breadth is key.

Uncertainty leaves an opening for a debate, for learning. Certainty is more argument or nothing. I hate arguments, and I particularly hate arguing with people who don’t know what we’re arguing about – without knowing what the project is, how can anyone be certain what is the best language to use? I hate being in a situation where I have to speak more vehemently than I feel because the other person doesn’t deal in questions, only in certainties.

I would like to have more things that I felt I could make definite statements about, but the reality is (and this is one of very few things I’m sure of) that oft-quoted statement, that the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know.

4 thoughts on “Uncertainty

  1. A very grey topic this – the balance between certainty and uncertainty. 

    I have thought about this myself – which side is it better to be on: whether to be comfortable in the space of ‘uncertain’ and learning all the time, or embracing the ‘certain’, at the risk of being close-minded.

    And what I have realized is that mostly I am looking for clarity – the ability to learn just enough to understand the full spectrum, but by no means learning enough to reach that scary place of ‘certain’.

    It is somewhat of a twist on Socrates – the more I learn, the more I hope to find clarity (juxtaposed to ‘the more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing’).

    1. “mostly I am looking for clarity – the ability to learn just enough to understand the full spectrum, but by no means learning enough to reach that scary place of ‘certain’.”

      Oh this is perfect. Yes! Thank you!

  2. “Drive (Amazon) re: intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, or if you’re doing it for the money you won’t do it as well.”

    I read drive, and a lot of it resonated with me.  A few months later, however, the company I work for introduced a bonus system: bill so many hours a week, and you get money, the more hours you bill, the more money you get.

    Much to my surprise, this was a resounding success.  Why?  The money was an incentive to ship.  It’s great coming up with a genius solution to a problem, but it’s no use at all if no-one gets to see it.  Good solutions that ship are better than great solutions that don’t.

    Needless to say, I hate my hat.

    1. “incentive to ship” – thanks for the story. You’re right about solutions that ship being better, I’ll have to consider that more.

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