I’m just back from a few days in Ireland, of the Northern variety. There was much talk of uncertainty. T. spoke about her father’s farm, the far fields of which run along the seam of the border. “There’s more talk of Brexit than there are cups of tea taken, and that’s saying something,” she told me. To be fair, I’m sure if a sheugh at the foot of my far field was soon to become an international border, I’d be talking about it too. On Monday I met P. in Belfast. She had travelled by train from Dublin and was wondering what changes to the journey she might see in the weeks or months to come. C. crossed the border at the weekend too, he made the trip by car. I warned him he could be done for smuggling oatcakes when the whole uncertainty is solved, along with those northern eggs he took back with him.
When we are told, ‘we live in uncertain times’, as is the current zeitgeist, we gobble it up, we worry, fret, fixate and wonder what’s going to happen. I’m not recommending the denial of, ‘it’ll all be fine’, or the nihilistic approach that, ‘we are all doomed!’ But perhaps the level of awareness and amount of attention we give to something unduly fuels feelings of uncertainty around one specific issue whilst clouding the fact that life is always uncertain. Not that I want to make you feel worse, but Benjamin Franklin called it out when he said: ‘the only things that are certain are death and taxes.’ Ah, but this time is different – I hear you say – this time it really is an uncertain mess. It’s all in a bit of a tangle all right. As Donald Rumsfeld said, in that most curious of quotes, ‘it’s a known unknown’, which I think gets to the heart of it, for ‘known unknowns’ are the most unnerving of all. A change is going to come, you can brace yourself or keep breathing, or you can find something entirely different to feel uncertain about, you’ll have no shortage of options.