Being Comfortable with Uncertainty

by Dennis Bradford

in moral well-being

Becoming comfortable with uncertainty is an effective means of improving encounters (interpersonal relationships).

Encounters challenge everyone.  Have you ever met anyone who had little or no difficulty with respect to friendships, love affairs, inter-familial relationships, work relationships, and so on?  I haven’t.  Encounters can be extremely valuable, but we purchase that importance only by willing to endure the troubles they generate.

Is there a general strategy that is very useful with respect to improving encounters?

Yes, namely, becoming comfortable with uncertainty.

Since intellectual progress occurs only when ideas clash, it’s a good procedure to engage in the give and take of comparing and contrasting evidence in an effort to improve understanding.  In philosophy, this process is engaging in the dialectic.

However, with respect to encounters, it’s important to discuss rather than to argue.  Never argue.

Why not?

If you and I were to argue about some issue, we’d each be taking the position that “I am right; there’s better evidence for my position than for yours and I’m smart enough to realize that and you aren’t.”

Please notice that the claim that “I am right” is an egocentric claim.  To argue is to practice egocentricity To be attached to your own ideas is to be predisposed to argue, to be ready for intellectual conflict and combat.  If someone challenges your ego, you are only likely to dig in and defend yourself.  While some people enjoy arguing, if you are interested in improving your encounters it’s wise never to argue.

Becoming more comfortable with uncertainty undermines the tendency to be argumentative.  It’s also more honest.

Realty is in incessant flux.  Therefore our individual perspectives are not only partial but temporary.  Attaching to our own opinions is the foolishness of fanaticism.

Wisdom with respect to our own opinions comes from always being ready to challenge them, which is the courage of a philosopher.  The wiser you are, the more comfortable with uncertainty about your own opinions you are.  This justifies permanently abandoning the attitude that “I get it and you don’t.”

Instead of taking it personally and arguing when someone disagrees with you, think (and be willing to say), “What we have here is a difference in perspective.  There’s probably some truth in each of our perspectives.  Let’s discuss this and determine if there isn’t a synthesis.  Help me understand how you see it by explaining your perspective to me.”

Are you inclined to argue with someone who respects you and wants to understand you?  Aren’t you instead inclined to be agreeable and to determine whether or not there is common ground?  Even if there is no common ground, friendship requires mutual respect.  Friends are able to disagree while still liking each other.

It’s not easy to become more comfortable with uncertainty.  It is, though, much more intellectual honest than merely being fanatically attached to your own views.  Furthermore, being more comfortable with uncertainty is an excellent way to improve your encounters.   I’ve learned this the hard way!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Realistic July 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Egocentric sound bites from a person whom, it appears, has never consistently suffered real hardship in life yet considers himself to be knowledgeable in such areas.

BigTuna September 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

The World would be a better place if everyone was less attached to their opinions (myself included).

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