The Inglorious Bastards

The Inglorious Bastards, a Medium series by Arka Bani Maini

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The word for the month is uncertainty

People hate being uncertain. When what we observe doesn’t make sense to us, when we glimpse too clearly for comfort how much bigger and more chaotic the world is than it normally appears, we are threatened. In situations like that — like this — any explanation feels safer than none. We seek out a narrative, one we can understand quickly and easily, with just a few steps between now and the end, nice and tidy. The kind of narrative we gravitate to will depend on who we are and where we come from, but everyone feels more comfortable with a story. It helps us organise and orient our stress responses — and our systems are certainly being stressed.

But there’s danger in looking ahead too quickly, or getting attached to a story just because it feels good. We look for neat endings so that we can skip the discomfort of being in the middle. We want stories that tell us who is right and knows the answers (me or my favourite authoritative source) and who is wrong (millennials, people who are over-reacting, people who aren’t following the rules, those other guys I didn’t like already). We want yardsticks with which to measure. We want to be sure we’re doing it right.

“It’s not that big a deal” was a story that felt good for a moment, but it was dangerous to hold on to. “Everything will be back to normal soon” was a story we liked, but we had to let it go. Whatever narrative you gravitate to now, there’s a non-zero chance you’ll have to edit it in response to new information at some point in the future.

If you’re a cynic (this girl right here), it’s easy to criticise positivity as being naive or simplistic. For a lot of people, it’s easier to look for silver linings and bright sides. But blind pessimism or blind optimism — both are blind.

The only thing that seems sure at this point is that going back to the old normal won’t be possible — which is a good thing, because we needed change, but it doesn’t mean a good outcome is guaranteed. This is major disruption. People will respond in very different ways. All of our actions will have far reaching and unforeseen consequences. Well-intentioned people will make mistakes and cause harm. Not-so-well-intentioned people will have plenty of opportunity to take advantage.

We try to assuage our uncertainty about the present situation by making prophecies for the future, whether they’re idealistic or dire. But the future depends on what people do, and people are full of surprises. Either we will solve these problems, or we won’t, and we have no idea which it will be until we’ve tried to do it. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate a lot of things, and we should be looking very closely at what we can learn and how we can make things truly better — but just repeating that they will get better won’t do the trick. We can’t just tell the story; we have to do the work.

No one has it all figured out. This is the part where we have to think critically and act compassionately, and it’s so hard. This is the middle. It’s where we have to do a whole bunch of uncomfortable things. We don’t know how it will end. Some days we will feel hopeful, and grateful, and some days we will grieve. We need to allow for all of that. If we avoid the discomfort, we will certainly not get the ending that we want.

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