Knowledge precedes comprehension.
Unfortunately, all too often we stop trying before getting to step two.
Instead, we just make stuff up.
It’s how we get gods who throw thunderbolts and roil the sea, beasts that steal children and alien abduction, demonic possession and angelic intervention, conspiracy theories and hidden agendas.
Because knowing is easier than not knowing.
Confidence is more comfortable than uncertainty.
Blame is more convenient than taking responsibility.
Anger is more satisfying than compassion.
Having an explanation for things, knowing something for certain, even if it is demonstrably wrong, helps us cope.
Of course there are times—most times in my estimation—there are things that are incomprehensible.
There are things we know, things we think we know, things we know we don’t know and the things we don’t know we don’t know. For me, it seems, the longer I’m around, the more I learn, the less I truly know.
If I think about knowledge and comprehension as a pie, there’s this tiny sliver that represents the things I know, a slightly larger slice for the things I think I know, slightly larger again for things I know I don’t know and a vast overwhelming chunk representing the things I don’t know I don’t know.
As the tiny sliver grows, it doesn’t take up more of the pie, it just expands the entire pie (which makes it feel like it’s actually shrinking).
I tend to spiral into these philosophical whirlpools particularly at this time of year. It often seems kind of arbitrary. After all, January 1 is just the next day after December 31. Another year is simply a continuation of the old one. Life proceeds inexorably toward death with no regard for human inventions such as clocks and calendars.
Compartmentalizing life into discreet units of time—minutes, hours, days, weeks, months—creates order from the chaos. It helps us cope with the fact nothing is certain or permanent.
The New Year tends to bring on bouts of reflection. It’s a combination, I think, of downtime, the absurdity of the rampant consumerism and the age-old tradition of making resolutions.
As a rule, I generally don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but looking back over 2019, the best thing I heard this year was a quote from Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F___.
“The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.
One thing you find in the newspaper business, particularly in the age of social media, is there are a lot of angry, bitter, anxious and/or fearful people in the world.
One thing I know for certain is my life is infinitely better when I am not angry, bitter, anxious and/or fearful.
Another thing I know for certain is usually when I am experiencing those emotions it is because I am desiring a more positive experience I can’t have or not accepting a negative one I do have.
At the risk of making a resolution, I guess it would be to keep reminding myself: It’s OK not to know; it’s OK to be uncertain; it’s OK to take responsibility; it’s OK to be compassionate.