Embracing Uncertainty


Growing up, in school, we’d be reading the same page 40 times, when the Rabbi would stop the class for a spot check. If you had lost your place, you’d be publicly shamed – yelled out, or sent out of the classroom.

We were reminded that in the olden days Yemenite kids would read with oranges under their chin. If they looked up and the orange dropped, they’d be beaten. We’d never had it this good.

(I got very good at playing along while letting my mind wander, or skimming the page to find the right spot if a surprise check was suddenly initiated)

Not knowing, uncertainty, became a very dangerous thing.

Religion demands certainty.

You must be certain that your butthole is clean. That you concentrated during the first paragraph of Shmone Esre. That you remembered to say Ya’ale Veyavo on Rosh Chodesh.

In return, Religion promises certainty.

Certainty that you’re the chosen people. That God is listening to every word. That everything you do matters. That these times, indeed, are the end of days.

It takes greater courage to live in uncertainty.

To not know the point of it all. To not know what your role is. To not know who to turn to when the going gets tough.

And yet, uncertainty is an essential part of life.

Essential for humility, to continue to learn and admit what you don’t know.

Essential for the scientific method, questioning even things that we seemingly take for granted.

Essential for spontaneity and play. No one wants to play a game where the outcome is a given.

Over the years, I developed an aversion to uncertainty.

A clenching of the stomach when I woke up, around the day’s many unknowns.

An artificial confidence for spouting answers even to things I know nothing about. (this is known in professional circles as “bullshit Shore confidence”)

A deep dislike of replying with an “I don’t know” to the endless questions my 10 year old poses to me (you are usually only about two follow-up questions away from an “I don’t know”)

For me, it also combined with an obligation around masculinity, to be a provider and protector. It wasn’t enough to try, I had to succeed. I had to take responsibility for outcomes far beyond my control. A surefire recipe for anxiety.

I am actively working on accepting ambiguity.

Of deliberately playing in the unknown.

Of feeling safe even with no guarantees of safety.

Because, despite what religion claims, reality would like a word. And that word is uncertainty.

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