How often do you take advantage of ambiguity in the world? When is the last time you looked at something and thought to yourself, “What else might this be?”

As American actor, screenwriter, film director and producer Edward Norton once said, “All people are paradoxical. No one is easily reducible, so I like characters who have contradictory impulses or shades of ambiguity.” In the academic disciplines which study the human condition (history, philosophy, literature, etc.), ambiguity has often been valued as the basis of depth, subtlety and richness in art. Yet we often fail to embrace these qualities central to the Humanities in practical life applications.

We all have our hidden “mysteries,” do we not? And all of us will deal with unfair labeling throughout our lives by people looking for absolutes. Who cannot forget Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book The Scarlet Letter, a complex portrayal of social and moral issues highlighting the dangers of eliminating ambiguities to get the meanings “right” (if that’s even possible to do with any real accuracy)? The allegorical tale shows that even so simple a label as the first letter of the alphabet is full of burgeoning meanings dependent upon changing contexts and nuance.

“There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist!” claimed The Wizard in Wicked. Yet even in the “land of the free” we still struggle to tear off suffocating labels which others put on us to fit their own needs to find comfort in (unrealistic) absolutes.

Ultimately, looking at how people respond to ambiguity says a lot about both human creativity and adaptability. Faced with life’s complexities it is natural that we desire to seek a sense of order and meaning. Yet multiple interpretations and the difficulty of achieving consensus remain a challenge. Perhaps there is a certain refuge in embracing uncertainties as a mysterious and wonderful part of existence itself. Not having all the answers about the world and each other certainly makes life interesting.

Is your mind mature enough to endure uncertainty? If so, how do you successfully navigate through it? Please share your thoughts on the subject, no matter how uncertain they may be.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

―Gilda Radner

Featured art: ‘Uncertainty Principle’ by Regina Valluzzi, René Magritte, The Uncertainty Principle (Le Principe d’Incertitude), Etching: contemporary Russian artist, name unknown


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