Our world has rarely appeared as uncertain as it does today. We are lacking answers to countless questions. At the same time, more opinions than ever are circulating the world wide web, challenging our brain to digest all the information. Covid-19 is changing economic systems, modes of work, family lives, and every step through daily life. It is teaching us to deal with uncertainty on an entirely new scale.
We are confronted with fears about health, death, or unemployment – fears many of us have not been confronted with like this before. This is unsettling and inhibiting. Some feel caught, others lean towards over-activism.
Within the realm of the unknown unknown that we are all facing right now, the right answers are lacking. We are confronted with a lack of orientation and certainty. Many of us are hope to re-establish the status quo as it has been before Corona kicked off. Others attempt to plan for a safe future. Without judgement as to which is the right way, let us look at one question: How do we become pros at surfing the wave of the unknown unknown:
In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld hat 2002, former United States Secretary of Defense stated:
„There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.“
(Donald Rumsfeld, 12. February 2002, United States Secretary of Defense)
The Corona-crisis is a confrontation with the Unknown Unknown. It is also a chance for individuals and societies to think in entirely new ways. However, as human beings we have a hard time to change perspective. We have never been trained for reframing our belief systems or even for dealing with the unknown unknowns.
KNOWN KNOWNS – THINGS WE ARE AWARE OF AND UNDERSTAND.
At school, during university or as employees, we have been educated on how certain systems function. Hence, we developed a certain understanding of how our world has to work. This impacts our expectations of how careers have to develop, how our working world workds, and how we as parts of a particular community have to behave. Known systems and frameworks provide us with security and orientation.
KNOWN UNKNOWNS – THINGS WE ARE AWARE OF BUT DON’T UNDERSTAND.
At the same time, we are aware of things that we do not understand. Let’s take career planning as an example for a known unknown: We set goals for ourselves on our career path. Usually, these goals are somewhat similar to goals that other people, who serve us as examples or “role models”, have achieved. We adhere to the models that have worked for others without knowing for sure whether those models will also work for us. But as we define our goals, those models give orientation. In addition, they facilitate our coordination with others, like our superiors.
Statistics and facts usually support the known. They validate the past and support the development of forecasts and future scenarios. In a way, they direct our expectations and provide an illusion of safety once a forecast has been confirmed. But there is more to the world than what we can directly grasp and measure.
UNKNOWN KNOWNS – THINGS WE UNDERSTAND BUT ARE NOT AWARE OF
Deep inside we know that there are unknown knowns. Do you recall yourself saying: “I don’t have a good feeling about this, but I cannot exactly say why.”
Some call this feeling “intuition”, others call it “inner voice”. Statistically, it is hard to measure the effects of our inner voice. There are, however, countless anecdotal examples of how the inner voice helped human beings to navigate life. It warns us or gives positive signals leading up to a decision. It supports us, when we appear to lack frames of reference and it accompanies us, when we have lost orientation on our paths.
Often, it is our inner voice that reminds us to call a friend, we have not talked to in a while. Once we do so, we are not seldomly greeted with gratitude by that friend who tells us, we called them at “exactly the right moment”.
UNKNOWN UNKNOWN – THE ART OF NOT KNOWING
Our world has always been uncertain. Certainty is an illusion we would like to hold on to. Yet, the future, which appeared so clear and predictable, suddenly crumbled over the past weeks.
We experience subsequent uncertainty concurrently on various levels:
c) As a society
d) As a global community
a) The Corona virus is confronting many people with emotions like fear, uncertainty, or anger. Many of us never had to deal with such intense emotions before. b) These fears arise from a fear for our life, existential threats, or the fear of losing someone we love. c) At the same time, the democratic system – the political frame to most of our existences – has suddenly shifted radically. d) The questions of what freedom and participation mean to us individually is more important than ever on a regional, national, and global level. Yet, where do we begin to ask questions, if our frame of reference changes every single day?
Something else is showing: Within the field of the Unknown Unknowns, we rarely know how to raise questions:
a) To which topics does it make sense to raise a question?
b) Which questions do really matter right now?
c) Within which frames of reference do we raise our questions?
d) Who are the right people to talk to – who is responsible?
e) How can we engage with the right partners to discuss matters?
Many questions that are addressed by media and people in social media are circulating around restoring the normality as it was before Corona. In doing so, we apparently regain certainty. This certainty, however, is an illusion created by the past. We know of elder people saying: The past was always better. At the end of the day, however, the past is what it is: passed.
To which topics should we henceforth ask questions: 2/3) To a future, which we cannot yet foresee? 4) Or should we address contact partners, who are either overloaded, not responsive, caught up in action mode or in their own desperation? 5) Who are the people to discuss our questions with? Who is going to impact the present? Who becomes more important and what do we expect them to do?
Being in quarantine and at home, we all have one certain contact person to talk to and that person is you. Many of the answers, we are looking for, will only be found within one source and that source is our inner wisdom, i.e., our inner voice. The search in the external world is confusing, overloaded with facts and wanna-be-facts. Many people hold many opinions. But none of the experts, opinion leaders, and spokesmen have a final answer. The future is uncertain and we are all together moving within the field of the Unknown Unknowns.
Amidst the silence of our quarantine there is also a chance to explore and to retreat. We might find unexpected answers about our personal future and our individual sense of meaning within the silence. Those answers might be new, different, and revealing in a way that we had not found like this amidst the chaos of the external world.
Currently, it is really hard to tackle large, systemic questions. It is even harder to receive answers to those questions. It is challenging to estimate where our economies are heading towards and what is going to happen to many employees, freelancers, and entrepreneurs.
But we all have been given the opportunity to reflect upon how we want to fill the silence. We all can use this chance to listen to our inner voices and to ask ourselves:
- How do I want to support myself?
- How can I support others?
- What can I do right now?
- How can I contribute to society after Corona?
Meaning provides orientation
- What are my passions? What do I like to do?
- Could I fill the time I am currently winning with long forgotten passions?
Learning makes the brain go faster
- What am I learning from the current crisis? What do I still want to remember in 6 – 8 – 12 months from now?
- What has been my most valuable learning experience since the beginning of the lock-down?
- What has actually been good over these past few weeks?
Allow these questions to support your introspection in silence and notice, how much movement they might create in our inner world, while the outer world appears to stand still.
Presumably, your introspection will not lead to instant answers for the Unknown Unknowns of our world as it is today in April 2020. The arising answers can still support you in deepening our inner dialogue and to clarify, which external conversations really matter to you right now.
Have fun surfing the waves of the Unknown Unknowns. You are not alone.