Know Answers vs. No Answers – Part 2

In my Part 1 post of Know Answers vs. No Answers, I talked about the theoretical versus reality and how the two are often, disappointingly, incompatible. There are so many experiences in life that defy simple answers. I struggle to accept that some situations don’t neatly fit the theoretically known answers and this often causes me to feel like I’m stuck in the dark, unsure how to proceed.

As I continued to contemplate this divergence of certainty in the theoretical versus the hazy, gray reality, I considered how messy it can get when factoring in other people, or even factoring in my own daily-shifting mindset. Other people bring their own experiences, mindsets, beliefs, and values into each situation. Their world view can be different from mine and their mindset, obviously, is completely outside of my control. Theoretical lens cannot fully take into account the unlimited variations of humanity that impacts real-life application.

How we respond to situations can change daily, influenced by our current frame of mind and what we’re dealing with in our own lives. I’m much more likely to have a negative view of a situation or interaction if I am tired, irritable, and stressed. In comparison, when my frame of mind is rejuvenated, hopeful, well-rested, I’m likely more well-intentioned and optimistic. I am an ever-changing wildcard, and the mindset of the person I’m interacting with is also fluid; it’s not surprising that information might be received totally differently than intended.

When I take a step back and have time to consider a situation and all its mess and complexity, it is easy to see why the simplified theoretical answers don’t apply the way I wished they did. As I edited the first photo for this post, shared above, I realized it was an example of how we only see a piece of reality. The apparent theoretical simple answer is similar to the curated, perfected image that is often presented; but it is just a part. There’s also another part, what’s behind the scenes, underneath the surface, not readily visible, the inexplicable and reason-defying aspects of life that completes the complicated, whole picture. Similar to an edited photo, filtered to enhance and neatly trimmed to eliminate the chaotic mess, the edited, cropped from the whole, picture-perfect simplicity of theoretical answers is appealing! It provides a sense of control and direction. But it’s important to factor in the reality that the theoretical is just a part of reality. The whole picture usually includes a unique backstory, an entire narrative that isn’t always presented but nonetheless plays an important part of understanding reality. As I looked at the photo I took, a cropped image showing a cozy writing space, I thought about the reality that the corner is just a tiny part of a messy table full of craft and school supplies. Just as our lives, the parts we choose to share, are a part not the sum total. And, just as often, when difficult circumstances present, the simple answers that make sense in theory don’t fit the uniquely complicated, complete realities.

There seem to be more and more situations in my own life that defy the conventional, simple answers paradigm. Life can present uncertain circumstances, made even more complicated by the reality of complex humans who often choose seemingly baffling detours. These contradictions that fill our lives often make it difficult to make sense of things and discern a known-answers-path-forward. And, let’s be honest, the unknown makes us uncomfortable. As Jessica put it while editing my Part 1 piece, “It is so hard to NOT KNOW! Like I really, really want to have all the answers. But reality is we don’t.” We really, really want to have all the answers. Maybe partly it’s because if we have answers, we feel we’re in control. It’s frustrating, embarrassing, and disheartening to feel that we don’t have answers. It can also be really scary and disempowering to not know the next best steps or the right way to respond in difficult, complicated situations. Answers often create a sense of control over situations; answers offer comfort when the situation seems inexplicable; answers provide a defined route forward.

What I’ve come to accept, as I’ve progressed on this most recent journey of comparing the theoretical versus reality, is that often there are no simple answers. There isn’t necessarily a right thing to say or do in every situation. Sometimes all we can do is respond in our best kindness, which reminds me of a quote attributed to Ian Maclaren: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The curated story we often share is just part of the larger picture of what we’re dealing with. That, often, behind the cozy and peaceful writing nook is a messy table and a house filled with the distractingly loud voices of kids arguing. When the simple theoretical doesn’t match the complex reality, maybe sometimes it’s enough to accept that we’re all just doing our best. And, hopefully, our best can be used to help those around us. But on days where our best doesn’t land as intended, when our best is ugly and unsure, maybe we can take a moment to grow in forgiveness, to ourselves and others. The truth is reality is messy and humanity is complex but every day we have a renewed opportunity to choose to meet each other with grace and kindness as we continue to navigate the unknown.

Wendi is co-author of The Unexpected Ever Afters blog and enjoys sipping extra hot coffee, sharing a love of reading with her kids, and exploring bike trails.

photo credit: personal photos

One thought on “Know Answers vs. No Answers – Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Mystery of New Life – the unexpected ever afters

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