I’m Allergic to Certainty


(Photo/Drawing: Corie Howell, 2009. Creative commons image via flickr.)

There’s this way people talk about things when they’re sure of themselves. They have a warm grin on their faces. The head tilts forwards, shoulders back. Speech gains the timbre of confidence. I find this display endlessly irritating and sometimes almost nauseating. It’s not that I dislike people with unshakable convictions. It’s more that I don’t understand them. Because we don’t ever experience Truth in some sort of deep, capitalized essence way. We get truth blended in with lies and red herrings and illusions and wishes and half-truths and false positives and false negatives. We strain away, trying to pull out something useful. But I never stop straining. I don’t see how some people manage to stop.

I wasn’t raised this way. I was raised to be a True Believer, and I can remember the satisfaction and wholeness that certainty brings. I miss that sensation. But I can’t give up my doubts. And I wouldn’t. Doubt gives ideas a sense of motion. Sure, it’s dizzying at first. But you get used to it, like sailors get used to the movements of the sea.

I don’t like broad generalizations or easy explanations. I try to avoid hacks and people who complain about hacks. I worry that one day I will wake up and find a #hashtag stapled to every object on the Internet. I’m always looking for dissectible material, things to parse. I’ve learned how to spot people who believe in complications. I ruminate constantly, excessively.  

But you can’t present this to the world. Hesitating is weakness. Looks like a failure of intelligence or of character. And so I’ve taught myself how to act. How to speak like you’re sure of your words. The confident head-tilt. That smug smile of knowingness. It’s fun to be self-assured. And after playing it for long enough, you are. Deep beneath there’s still that strange electricity, emanating from a humming dynamo of doubt.

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