The Other I

June 5, 2020

The surprise of today

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:02 pm

When I was young, I did expect old age to be sort of boring.  But I never thought that the older I got the more questions I would have..  Especially perhaps because when I was young, I had all the answers.

But faced with huge global events that impact so personally on almost all of us, I now spend hours trying to understand more about Covid19, about world trade, politics, the economy, cybertechnics, the stock market, the meaning of death in the light of the death of some very dear family and friends.

As I look at the array of questions I’m stumbling with, I am now trying to understand where my certainties come from, and wondering just how reliable they are.  Like, I am sure, everyone reading this blog, I have values to which I am deeply committed and by which I try to live.

But where do these values come from, and how certain am I that they are worth my life’s commitment?   from faith and religious belief?  from science?  from my upbringing and culture?

I do know that sometimes I have betrayed those values.  I also know that more often than I can count I have misapplied them.  When I have thought I was being loving, I can see now I was sometimes enabling.  When I was trying to be helpful, I was sometimes being controlling and disrespectful.  If you know what I mean, you know my list might be very long.

These days I distrust both individuals and institutions with more right answers than questions.  Even if they are presidents or archbishops or professors or experts telling me how to fix our plumbing.

As Steven Hawkins, one of the most highly respected scientists of the last two centuries said “the more we know, the more questions we have.”

So I can only hope that I’m really not getting dumber as I’m getting older but wiser.  And maybe even kinder.



  1. What a lovely post, Terry. You had me “when I was young I had all the answers”! I totally agree. But it’s not just about age and youth (although that’s definitely a component). I think it is accentuated by the times we live in, that rewards confidence over competence (or measures competence in terms of confidence)

    I recall Carl Sagan quoting a Latin saying, Ubi dubium ibi libertas (Where there is doubt, there is freedom). I was brought up to start my sentences with “I think” or “I believe”. At some point in my work life I learned to read my emails, and remove these admissions of uncertainty, and I found that I was soon perceived as being an expert. My willingness to admit the possibility of being wrong was seen as an admission of weakness.

    Now, we live in a world where everyone talks confidently about things they know little about – from Presidents to social media warriors (who are occasionally the same person). And there is no freedom.


    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by psriblog — June 5, 2020 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

    • Sriram – I didn’t expect so much food for thought from this post. Your pointing out how broadly confidence is equated with competence is a new possibility for me. I can see what you are saying, and it has got me wondering the source of this equation. As I look at history both short and long-term, and in many cultures, it has always existed. People in positions of power and leadership have always seemed to speak with a greater certainty – whether the positions are in political, financial, religious, cultural, familiar groups. But what you point out and we have so much of now is the marriage of certainty and accuracy among almost any group that claims it. How has this happened? Is it a result of democracy? of globalization? I’m not convinced I know. Would be most interested in hearing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by theotheri — June 6, 2020 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

      • It’s an important question and I am sure there are better people than me who are researching it in detail. But if you want my opinion, I think there are two factors at play.
        In the beginning your opinions only counted if you were member of an elite group – you had access to superior information, and you had a platform for sharing it. The “common” people had neither.
        Then came the first of the two factors:
        1) Democratization: I believe it is one of the few unsavory side-effects of a process that has been otherwise very beneficial to society. Democratization meant that you didn’t need to be born in a particular community in order to achieve mastery of anything you wished to be a master of, PROVIDED you put in the effort required to gain such mastery. This wasn’t perfect – the inequities were more subtle, the opportunities to become a PhD in a subject were not equal to people of all origins and communities. But it was better than the earlier schema.

        Then along came #2.
        2) Technology – which gave access to information and the power to spread information to everyone, regardless of their mastery of the subject, regardless of their putting in any effort at all to gain mastery.
        So everyone’s an expert! On everything!
        So how do you decide whom to believe? You can’t go by skin color or gender any more, or how expensive the speaker’s jacket is. You can go by where they went to college, but that’s not necessarily apparent from a Twitter handle.
        So, you are left only with the amount of confidence they display, as a surrogate for gauging their expertise!
        I hate simplistic models like the one above because the truth is usually more complex. So I am not going to pretend they are the complete truth. I’d love to get them developed further until we get a proper understanding of the subject!


        Comment by psriblog — June 7, 2020 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

        • I can hardly add to what you describe as a possibly “simplistic model,” except to say that I experience it as insightful rather than simplistic. You say it’s not the “complete truth,” which almost by definition, in my opinion, these days means it probably does qualify as a simplistic model, which is so often presented as complete ad non-negotiable.
          Seriously, thank you for taking the time to share your hypotheses.


          Comment by theotheri — June 8, 2020 @ 2:28 pm

  2. For me it’s actually one of the joys of getting old — knowing for sure that I don’t know anything for sure. Maybe there’s a kind of reassurance in realizing there will be no “answers.” I’ve come to accept that’s who I am, uncertain, ignorant, adrift, living by the faith I have in my senses and even questioning that. I wonder if the reason so many older people talk as if they know what’s right and what’s not isn’t based on fear. Maybe they/we double-down on “when I was a boy” etc. because we feel so vulnerable and betrayed by the assurances and certainties we were fed or force-fed in our youth.

    But, of course, I don’t even know if I can say that much with any certainty. In fact, I can’t. 😉

    Thanks. Great food for thought.


    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — June 5, 2020 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

    • I’m not sure I would have thought to put it that way, but I agree with you, Tom: knowing that I don’t have all the answers, by my very nature can’t know all the answers, is truly a joy and gives me a sense of freedom. And like you, I’m wondering why so many people reject that freedom. Maybe it’s a mix of factors – fear, education, intellectual ability, religion, intolerance, bigotry? And of course, there is the totally unlikely option that you and I are altogether wrong about whether we should be feeling the freedom we do…:)


      Comment by theotheri — June 6, 2020 @ 2:31 pm | Reply

  3. dear Terry, thank you for your thoughtful post.
    I’ve been rereading Jung….I think his words
    at age 83 are relevant. xo, Cookie

    C.G. Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections

    “When people say I am wise, or a sage, I cannot accept it.
    …I stand and behold, admiring what nature can do. One
    must stoop a little in order to fetch water from the stream.
    … I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself.
    I am distressed, depressed, rapturous. I am all these things
    at once, and cannot add up the sum. …There is nothing I
    am quite sure about. …In spite of all uncertainties, I feel
    a solidity underlying all existence and a continuity in my
    mode of being.
    The world into which we are born is brutal and cruel,
    and the sane time of divine beauty…Lao-tzu says: “All are
    clear, I alone am clouded,” he is expressing what I now feel
    in advanced old age… there is so much that fills me: plants,
    animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in humans.
    The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there
    has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things.”


    Comment by Carolyn Grassi — June 12, 2020 @ 2:43 am | Reply

    • Carolyn – Thank you so very much for this quote from Jung. As I recall, I have only read it once and that was more than 50 years ago — at which point it struck me as more mystical than scientific. I guess it still does sound mystical, but this time I recognize what he is saying. I don’t think I have read anything that expresses so well my own convoluted thoughts and feelings at this stage in my life.
      Thank you again – Terry


      Comment by theotheri — June 12, 2020 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

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