Monday, December 17, 2012

Maybe absolutely not

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." --Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 One of the things I've learned about my life as I spiral through middle age is that the only people who believe in absolutes are the very young or the very stupid. There is no certainty about anything. It's what makes life frustrating and interesting.

This may be disconcerting to people who seek consistency in a random world. If we believe Darwin, nothing would have evolved for better or worse if everything was consistent and static.

And I'm not just waxing macro philosophic jibba jabba. We start out believing that there are absolutes when we are children. We believe our parents know everything or know nothing. We believe doctors have all of the answers and can cure all. We believe that the next politician really does want to change things for the better. We believe we'll be best friends forever. We believe that the one true religion will save us. We are absolute sure of all of these things until they turn out to be absolutely wrong.

Well, not absolutely wrong, because there are no absolutes. Life is full of footnotes and disclaimers. Your parents don't know everything or nothing. Most doctors are doing the best they can, rolling dice and hoping they don't cut out something you really need. Some politicians really do want to change things until they realize they can't or they meet the right lobbyist. Friends come and go. There is no one true religion.

You feel betrayed when you first start to realize that things aren't always what you believed they were. One of the most idiotic phrase ever uttered is, "That's not fair." Fair to who? Fair by whose rules? Something may suck, but it has nothing to do with not being fair. The zebra may not think it is fair that the lion has chosen him for dinner when he just met the zebra love of his life, but the lion thinks it is pretty darned fair (or fare).

I'm not suggesting that we settle or accept everything under the guise of "Shit happens." I think what makes use strong is the struggle to create the closest thing we can to absolutes in our own lives. The operative statement here is "our own lives." My absolutes are not going to be the same absolutes as someone else. They may come close. But no two people or snow flakes are alike (as far as we know).

My parents didn't know everything but they did the best they could. Doctors are best consulted only if you have a gaping wound that is too big for a bandage you have at home. Never vote for politicians who advocate for change and claim to have been abducted by aliens. Enjoy the friends you have when you have them. As for religion, if you meet the Buddha by the road, kill him.

I'm not absolutely sure about any of this, however.

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