Though you were No. 1 on my shopping list, it was difficult to find the right gift. After much deliberation, I realized it was useless spending countless hours standing in line at the mall. Nor could I find anything from the conveniences of shopping online.
I wanted to get you something that you could use the entire year. More important, I wanted you to know that I put some thought in selecting the appropriate gift.
My gift to you is uncertainty. That's right. I want to take that nebulous, unpredictable feeling into 2017. This gift is not based on the events specific to 2016, but rather an observation that uncertainty has been missing from the public discourse for quite some time.
The debate between certainty and uncertainty has been with us since Socrates and Plato walked the earth. While we are certain the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, how does that logic apply when evaluating the human condition?
There are multiple types of certainty. Some are useful pursuits, but I'm referring to an absolutism that is corrosive to our common life. In this context, one should not view knowledge and certainty on parallel tracks. They are opposites existing in perennial tension.
For too long, certainty, which is the antithesis of intellectualism, has been the dominant ethos in America. When was the last time we praised an elected official for responding to question by stating: "I don't know"?
The complexity of challenges before us are far greater than the parameters of absolute thinking. Desires for John Wayne-like endings with John Ford directing may be comforting, but they are unsuitable in a world of unpredictability that is pregnant with terrorism, climate change and tenuous economic times.
Are we not a nation committed to pluralism? Are we not a melting pot of various cultures, races, religions, orientations and political orthodoxies? Would it not stand to reason that a nation so conceived could ill-afford to rely on a false sense of homogenization?
I understand that giving up certainty presents a near insurmountable challenge. Certainty is convenient, provides immediate gratification and does not call us to question. But it is ultimately inadequate for an enlightened populace.
Certainty portrays the world as black and white, when in fact it is multiple shades of gray. It offers answers that are neatly delineated between right vs. wrong, while eschewing the ever-present nature of nuance.
So many of the sources we go to for "news" do not inform us as much as they reinforce our assumptions. Are we so arrogant to believe that only the side with which we align is right?
Certainty robs us of self-reflection. It is the ability to self-reflect that helps us to not only view ourselves authentically, but also to not be so quick to place others, who might see the world differently, in a box of our convenience.
For far too many, whatever we were before the election, we are still the same. If we were hopeful, hope still exists. And if we were frustrated, chances are nothing has changed.
Certainty is more apt to fuel the latter consideration because a portion of authentic hope has space for uncertainty. As I have opined in previous columns, none are in sole possession of THE truth. But feigning such narrows the corridors of what is possible, at least from our isolated perspectives.
My gift demands that questions become more important than the answers. It appreciates that sometimes there is no specific answer, and that the amorphous truth lies between the polarities of various perspectives.
A nation formed on an idea (the Declaration of Independence) cannot survive on an overreliance of certainty. It equates to being static. And would anyone associate the American experiment with stagnation?
Whatever the Founders were, they were not certain. After the War of Independence, many of the colonialists continued to refer to America colloquially as the "experiment." And it remains so into the 21st century. In this light, certainty methodically moves us away from the founding of the nation.
Relinquishing certainty does come with a different set of risks. It places the overarching values of the country over those of any political party. It means that one must question the side they support politically from time to time.
If you're hesitant to accept my gift, consider the words of my late grandmother: "No matter how much you know, what you don't know can start another world!"
I hope you enjoy your gift. Unfortunately, you can't return it for a set of Ginsu knives.