On living with ambiguity

Those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will recall that its end letter comes down to either a P or a J, denoting perception vs judgment modalities.  P types can tolerate, if not thrive on, open-ended movies.  Conversely, J’s like their movies to end with all the pieces in place.  As essentially an everyday existentialist, I’ve always found bonafide certainty elusive.  Thus, I generally come out in the wash as a P, with speculation often more fun for its U-Turn potential than the dead end of the J alternative.

But hold your horses. This doesn’t mean I’m closed to fixed verities and the closure they provide.  Who wants to cast his fate with an ambiguous lover, or speculate about whether he’ll have his job next month or, omigod, is it cancer?  Like the next guy, I want the bad guys rounded-up and justice meted out.  What a wonderful world it’d be if we could truly accept things as they appear, knowing nobody practices deceit, a world with no need for lawyers to protect us from the fraudulent.  No need for the clergy either to put right God’s way of doing things.  And so with psychiatrists, since there’d be nothing to be anxious about in a world absent of unknowns.  But as Voltaire’s Candide discovered the hard way, we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds.

I wouldn’t even be writing this entry if it hadn’t been for coming, serendipity fashion, upon Emily Dickinson’s powerful poem, “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” with its blunt rendering of our stumbling angst in a cosmos devoid of moon and stars to light our journey through the metaphysical night, reminding me again of ambiguity’s pervasiveness and our struggles to find our way:

We grow accustomed to the Dark—
When light is put away—
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye—
A Moment—We uncertain step
For newness of the night—
Then—fit our Vision to the Dark—
And meet the Road—erect—
And so of larger—Darkness—
Those Evenings of the Brain—
When not a Moon disclose a sign—
Or Star—come out—within—
The Bravest—grope a little—
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead—
But as they learn to see—
Either the Darkness alters—
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight—
And Life steps almost straight.

Here Dickinson fashions the poem’s edifice by way of analogy from everyday life of our initial difficulty seeing things when suddenly plunged into darkness until our vision adjusts and we find our way, or think we do (“And life seems almost straight”).  The equivocation comes in the persona’s almost, which we mustn’t miss in Dickinson’s typical closet subtlety, perhaps mirroring the metaphysical poets Donne and Herbert she read avidly.

When the narrator tells “Of something in the sight/Adjusts itself to Midnight,” we come to the bottom line of how we manage our journey through the psyche’s dark night (“Those Evenings of the Brain”), perhaps through religious faith, a mainstream fixture for many in the Calvinist Amherst of her time.

My point, and I think Dickinson’s as well, is that in a cosmos absent of Divine revelation and explicit meaning, our need for closure–to abolish life’s curves and set its steps straight, exerts itself in human constructs, epistemologically, whether done through provisos of faith or artist metaphor.

It isn’t just nature that abhors a vacuum.  We despise it too.  In the end, Jung is wrong, for we are all J’s at heart!  Life is very often a search for meaning and, if tenuous in its ambiguity, compels us to define it, however vulnerable its artifice.

–rj

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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One Response to On living with ambiguity

  1. I started out as a J and have become P, and it may well change yet (what was that between yes and no thing: tau?). As in NLP we have tendencies, some come to fore at different times in response to times and changes.
    Thanks for the E D – that means I’m really going to have to stop putting it off and start reading her ‘properly’ for once!

    Like

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