Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

My hundredth birthday. Of course we don't celebrate birthdays anymore the way we used to, and I am just as glad. Both the frugality and the respect for age that have become the new cultural norms around the world suit me just fine. I was never happy in the consumer culture that I was born into so long ago-- in 1953-- and although I didn't always fight it as fiercely as I perhaps should have, I find life much more pleasant now that we all use money so rarely. One thing is very much the same as it was when I was born, though-- and that's the population. At just around 2 and a half billion the number of people in the world is far lower than we all thought it would be by this time. Anyone over the age of 30 remembers some very hard times. Unlike when I was young, it is not just people as old as I am who have lost all of the people they loved. It is hard, but fortunately we all know-- and young people learn in school-- how to deal with trauma and how to help others-- and ourselves-- to heal. The good side of it is that I think we all feel lucky to be alive, and it makes us much kinder to one another. I don't think you young people today can possibly imagine how cruel we could be to one another when I was your age.

Looking back, I find it ironic that I spent so much of my life worrying about overpopulation. And that is the secret which I would like to pass on to you today: don't ever be certain that you know what the biggest problems are or will be. Particularly be wary of thinking you know how things should be or how to fix things. The more certain you are the more likely you are to be wrong. The worst evils I have seen in my time have sprung from decent people doing what they were absolutely certain was right. My own worst mistakes also sprang from certainty. Have the courage to be uncertain. Learn to listen to your own inner voice-- not the loud, ego-voice that tells you you're right and everyone better well listen (or else!) but the soft, whispering voice of your own heart, saying, "I know this is crazy-- everyone says it will turn out badly and they are probably be right-- but this is really what you want to do." When you hear that, don't ask anyone to go along with you, or tell you it's okay. Just go do it. I promise you won't regret it.

This is the gift of uncertainty. This is the one great gift I can offer you from out of my own past and the past of my family before me. Always question. Always look for new perspectives. Never assume that there is just one answer or that you have it. To do this is to let yourself be surprised by life. And at least some of the time those surprises will be good ones. If you can't do this, if you hold, out of fear, on to your rigid certainties you will, for awhile, feel more comfortable, but life will break you in the end. Death is the only true certainty we have-- so hold tight to life. Cherish your uncertainties.

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Comment by Jean Frankly on May 7, 2010 at 8:01pm
Very insightful. Doubt is often seen as our enemy. Yet it can save us when we summon the courage to face it.

Your post reminded me of John Ralston Saul's book "Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West". Think I'll re-read the last chapter "The Virtue of Doubt".

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