Skip to main content

Let’s enjoy the freedom of uncertainty


What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? 

I’ve spent most of my life looking for answers and have come to the conclusion that the questions are far more enlightening. The answer you get depends so much on the question you ask and, more importantly, when and why you ask it. The questions can tell us more about who we think we are than any answer we may then cling to for (a false sense of) security.

The problem with “answers” is that they are creative cul-de-sacs – discovery’s dead end. At worst, they are the source of delusion – the zealot’s certainty; at best, they lead to more questions. Somewhere in between, we can end up wasting our time trying to justify the “truth” of our “answer” in spite of any evidence that may challenge it – in extreme cases, hating anyone who challenges it. 

Or, in fear of the possibility that there is no permanent self, we may put on the uniform of this or that social, national, political or religious tribe to give us a sense of identity – even if it means wearing borrowed clothes.    

Holocaust Memorial Day is a day to remember what happens when people sacrifice their humanity on the altar of easy “answers”. 

The easiest, and laziest, of all “answers” to our problems is, of course, picking a scapegoat. On a world stage, this leads to horrors such as the Holocaust and the recent genocides in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia. It results in the persecution of Tibetan monks in China and Tamils in Sri Lanka.

One day, the scapegoats are the Jews, the next it’s black people, Muslims, immigrants, Gipsies... the list goes on. 

According to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the path to genocide starts with a division of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and the use of stereotypes, or excluding people who are perceived to be different. The scapegoats are then dehumanised and denied human rights and dignity – during the Rwandan genocide, for example, Tutsis were referred to as “cockroaches”; the Nazis referred to Jews as “vermin”. The propaganda of fear and hatred may be repeated so often by the media that such views become acceptable and then accepted as fact. Final destination, Auschwitz.

As D Cameron Watt warns in his introduction to the Pimlico edition of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “It is so much easier to surrender man’s birthright to doubt, to hesitate, to be undecided and uncertain, in brief the right to be free, for the certainty provided by someone else’s faith, someone else’s authority, someone else’s inner vision.”

And therein lies the danger: the Venus flytrap of “certainty”. Any book, especially religious, anti-religious and political books which promise absolute certainty and demand blind faith, if swallowed whole and without question, can suffocate what makes us fully human: our compassion (meaning, to suffer with – that is, to feel another’s pain as our own and thereby feel compelled to do our best to alleviate their suffering).

The Buddha, simply a teacher whose name means “Awake”, warned his followers not to believe a word he said, but rather to try out the methods he taught and judge for themselves whether they had any validity in their lives.

I believe this is good advice for us all, whatever our beliefs. If we want to avoid another Holocaust, I believe training ourselves in compassion is key: using our quiet moments to remind ourselves that everyone, like us, wants to be happy and free from suffering; to wish happiness for ourselves, then for someone close to us, then someone we don’t know, then someone we dislike.

But don’t take my word for it – I’m just a fellow explorer sharing a discovery. Give it a try and see if it works for you.

Life is a living, breathing question mark. Enjoy the freedom of uncertainty.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

When the fields are brown

There is a sense of quiet settling across the once-busy fields, now shorn of their wheat, barley and rape. The flowers in the ditches are no longer as riotous or plentiful in colour and variety and the birdsong is somewhat muted.

The cereal harvest is gathered in and there is a sense in the air of that pause that comes after frenetic work to get a project completed by deadline, that moment of relief that it is now done and the opportunity to take a moment to breathe and enjoy the sense of completion. There is satisfaction in the air but also a kind of melancholy, knowing that spring has gone and summer is nearing its end, the days still have the upper hand but they are now perceptibly giving way to the nights.

But the year is not yet done with colour and fragrance and song. Still rosebay willowherb, knapweed and tufted vetch are abundant in the ditches, the set-aside is full of speedwell and scarlet pimpernel and butterflies still flit from flower to flower. But this not just a tale of…

One man and his dog - and the healing power of nature

She’s staring intently at the ground, eyes fixed, body rigid, ears up, head slightly cocked to one side, the occasional swish of her tail brushing the dust.
I’m looking back towards our small white fluffy terrier-like dog from further up the farm track, having realised she is out of sight - she’s usually well ahead of me, jumping through hedges or grass, or nose hoovering up smells along the path or verges. But not this time. Something has grabbed her attention, and held it, so I wander back slowly to have a look. She doesn’t move. I peer at the spot that seems to have her transfixed. Nothing. What is she staring at? I peer closer and there, hidden beneath the early blades of grass is a tiny, wiggling, furry red bottom poking out of a hole in the earth. It’s our first bee of the year. We both stay watching, transfixed by this miracle of nature - tiny and magnificent.


And this experience sums up the nature (excuse the pun) of the following weeks and months as I use this sudden gift of re…

The Power of Small

I've always said, whenever asked, that environmentalism is more about saving people than the planet; the planet is perfectly capable of looking after herself. The Earth has gone through many transformations over her lifecycle and will continue to do so into the future. Whether that future includes humans is, in part, up to us, and in part dependent upon cosmic forces beyond our control (whatever we do, a meteor strike would wipe us all out anyway).  In political circles and the media, there seems to be little interest in the environment. And, frankly, in a capitalist society, until saving the planet makes money, business is not going to be that interested either. And yet, much has been achieved. Renewable electricity generation has increased dramatically in recent years, recycling has gone up, the number of plastic bags going into landfill has fallen. Environmental issues are taught at schools - especially at primary school level. The government's attempt to sell Britain'…