The amount of stuff happening this year, personally and collectively, makes me dizzy and taxes my processing ability. 2021 forced me (or gave me the opportunity) to find ways to hold and live with complexity. I trained for uncertainty in the ’80s living in a communist country. I am grateful to have the stamina and resourcefulness I developed. I question everything. I don’t take any claims at face value and like to investigate from different perspectives. I’ve never read as much science journalism, studies, and polls as I did this year. I’ve never fact-checked so many claims and news stories. This has helped me stop short of falling down a rabbit hole and getting stuck.
For me, holding complexity starts with mental flexibility and willingness to suffer the discomfort of re-evaluating and revising my convictions. Out with the dichotomous thinking, in with reminding myself that two things can be true simultaneously. I can be upset at someone and still respect them. A person can be annoyingly entrenched in a belief and be a good person and a friend. I can be done with the pandemic and allow people their need to be precautious. I can be deeply concerned about looming environmental disasters and hopeful that we’ll figure it out after all.
Access to more information does not mean we are more informed and make better decisions. On the contrary, more information, not all credible, only contributes to complexity and confusion. The human mind naturally looks for shortcuts and simplifications, categorizing and organizing what’s received. Thanks to the “primacy effect,” we are likely to remember most that which we hear first. And due to confirmation bias, we continue to seek similar, validating information. Continuing down the path of least resistance, we tend to sort ourselves accordingly into information and opinion camps. It helps us avoid ambiguity. We feel validated and supported among the like-minded. And we continue to drift apart with growing animosity.
It looks like this:
- We form opinions quickly and defend them like a Karen!
- We feel the need always to have an opinion and defend it… Like a Karen!
- We judge ourselves and others instead of being curious and open-minded.
- We form likes and dislikes based on said judgments and opinions.
- We avoid or seek confrontations to preserve, validate, and proselytize our opinions.
- We blame those who do not hold the same opinions for the wrongs we perceive.
- We vilify and seek to character-assassinate those who provide opposing information.
- We live in denial and rely on self-soothing behaviors to avoid reality, some of them unhealthy.
- We adopt offense, outrage, and feeling disrespected as a lifestyle.
- We are hypocritical, holding others to standards we do not abide by.
- We divide the world in two—“us” and “the stupid people out there.”
Another way for me to hold complexity is to remain rational. Emotions have a way of twisting perception, rationalizing motivation, and could cause a terrible case of bad judgment. Rationality guards against getting pulled along by others’ priorities—the media, politicians, retailers, and bad friends. Rationality helps with seeing things as they are not worse or better than they are.
I don’t think I’ll miss 2021. I am not sure I am looking forward to 2022 either. I hope the future is brighter. I am worried that the fabric of society is permanently torn and beyond repair. On days I feel depressed, I focus on the people within my orbit and appreciate them. I focus on my dog and spoil her rotten. I focus on what I can do and do something productive. Perhaps, others think the same way, and all our doing will collectively make a difference.
This piece is significantly abridged. To read the full article, head over to my blog at vpetrova.com.
Valentina Petrova has helped people with life, health, relationships, financial, and professional goals and challenges since 2015. You can reach her at valentinapetrovaconsulting.com.