How to Think and Act in Times of Uncertainty

Think about a time you felt especially uncertain. It’s probably not hard to do, as you may have recently felt uncertainty’s pang when entering a new restaurant or watering hole.  Do we just sit down? Or should we wait for someone to seat us?  Or you may have endured uncertainty’s sting when you scanned the bus for an empty seat.

For me, uncertainty showed up during “move-in day” the weekend before the start of my undergrad classes.  One of the first things I did was to saunter—in a self-conscious way—around campus. After a while, I came upon a young man who appeared to have just returned from a run.  He looked friendly enough, yet was quickly surrounded by other runners. This elevated my uncertainty about how to approach the situation. Should I stroll up confidently? What if they reject me?

Uncertainty is difficult. It makes us anxious. And anxiety seems to be three octaves above normal among progressives right now.  You know what I’m talking about.

Uncertainty at the white house
Photo: Alex Kay via Flickr Creative Commons

So how do or should we cope with uncertainty? For one, we could replay these popular tunes again: why her emails? But she had more popular votes! Russia rigged the election! 

And once we advance past the denial stage in the grieving process, we could retool and refocus on strategy.  Groom a charismatic, likable, inspiring candidate and deploy our most robust ground game.  Write to our Senators and members of Congress.  Run for office ourselves.

We could—and in many circumstances, should—do all of these things.  I’ll go further and propose that in the spaces between writing decision makers, grooming future candidates, and running for office, we should look to that which surrounds us. Our friends and family. Neighbors and colleagues.  These are indeed uncertain times. We need each other to devise and set out upon the best paths forward.

I, for one, look to carry out activities that on the surface, look inconsequential, but when summed together, can transform our culture. I’m thinking of small acts like handwriting letters to friends and family.  Who among us doesn’t enjoy getting physical mail from a friend? I’d also like to make something beautiful and useful for someone who could use it, such as a scarf or kitchen utensil.

I think I’ll also concentrate on writing more generally. Not unlike what I’m doing right here: offering thoughts that might help those of you who actually read these words place life into a broader context, or to think about the goings-on of the world a little differently.

The operative idea is to concentrate.  For when our minds lose focus and slip into distraction, as psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi tells us, they tend to drift into negativity. 

And when distracted or agitated, we become susceptible to the mass media drivel. We impulsively react to Trump’s tweets and scoff at the charlatanic pundits and loudmouths. Allowing man-child Donny’s narcissistic chattering to enter our consciousness opens the door to pounding anxiety and worry.  From here, the descent to depression and cynicism becomes slippery indeed.

But we must not allow ourselves to collapse into hopelessness. We must find a way to remain forceful. Together. To rise up to the occasion and begin doing for ourselves and others in grand vernacular fashion.  Especially in these uncertain times, we should turn our gaze from the media circus and turn inward and immediately outward.  Focus and hone our craft, sharing the spoils of our labor with important others.

Hope lies not in the rearrangement of oligarchs. It resides within you and me—in our crafty hands and indelible creativity. These are what create and nourish hope.

Pin It