A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Saturday, August 12, 2017

It's Possible

Recently I re-read this classic devotional by Bruce Hafen about dealing with ambiguity, and this quote stood out:

Experiences...can produce confusion and uncertainty—in a word, ambiguity—and one may yearn with nostalgia for simpler, easier times when things seemed not only more clear but more under our control. Such experiences may bring about the beginnings of skepticism, of criticism, of unwillingness to respond to authority or to invitations to reach for ideals that now truly seem beyond one’s grasp. Not everybody will encounter what I have been describing, and I do not mean to suggest that everyone must encounter such experiences. 

Ambiguity has the potential to make our lives a lot harder. It forces us to acknowledge the limits of our certainty. It destroys the carefully crafted fortress of our own prejudices and preconceptions. I think ambiguity also gives us sympathy for those who disagree with us. It also gives us the ability to criticize those causes and people close to our heart.

Lately I've been thinking about how a lot of what I read or watch is devoid of ambiguity. People seem pretty certain they are right, and those who disagree with them are wrong (and in some cases, sub-human). A dose of ambiguity can help us sense what is possible. For example:

It's possible to acknowledge that not all Trump voters are motivated by racial animus, yet still be concerned about the racial subtext of some political speech by and surrounding Trump.

It's possible to look at the 2016 campaign and see many blatant examples of sexism's double standard, yet acknowledge that Hillary had flaws as a candidate and politician.

It's possible to be annoyed by James Comey's handling of the Clinton emails, yet also be appalled that he was fired for investigating the Trump team's ties to Russia.

It's possible to be upset by Trump's rhetoric on the press, yet acknowledge that there are errors and biases present in all media (indeed, in all endeavors created by humans).

It's possible to be a big fan of President Obama, yet see that he did not do the best job of reaching out and compromising with Republicans.

It's possible to see the flaws in Obamacare and the process that created it, yet wholeheartedly condemn the mockery that seeks to replace it by cutting funds for healthcare of the poor while giving the rich a huge tax cut (all the while not holding a single public hearing).

It's possible to be staunchly pro-choice, yet acknowledge that other Democrats have valid reasons for being pro-life.

It's possible to see the importance of national government involvement in education and social policy, yet accept that regional needs may require involvement at the state and local level.

It's possible to recognize the need for a strong national defense, but think that we spend far too much money on weapons of war.

It's possible to disagree strongly with someone, yet note that their life experiences and outlook are different than yours, and they come by their opinions honestly and without intent to do harm.

What other ambiguities do you see in today's world? We should talk about this more - I feel like if we did, we would have more space for common ground. With this acknowledgement of ambiguity can come space for criticism and growth.


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  2. Thank you for the link to Brother Hafen's devotional talk. It was an interesting read. He defines "ambiguity" as "the gap between the real and the ideal" and points out that even though we should acknowledge the mists of darkness, we should also remember to cling to the iron rod.

    I agree with you on all of the political examples you list in your post, but I don't think of them as examples of "ambiguity". I prefer to use the word "nuance." Using your first two examples, I would say that Trump's racism and sexism are not at all "ambiguous". They are clearly apparent and unambiguously wrong. At the same time, I can acknowledge the distinction (nuance) that not all of his voters are racist and that Hillary had flaws.

    Brother Hafen correctly points out that too much skepticism can "lead to a hardened heart." He says, "The ability to acknowledge ambiguity is not a final form of enlightenment." He reminds us that, while we need to keep our "eyes wide open", we need to keep "our hearts wide open as well." I agree with him.

    Thank you, Diana, for bringing this important talk to our attention.