Fear and Confusion: My Two Best Friends

IMG_2050The title of filmmaker Werner Herzog’s book A Guide For the Perplexed could also be the title of my autobiography, except I’m not brilliant and often quoted by the literati. I do, however, reside in the state of Confusion (CI because CO was taken by the state of Colorado) where all of the citizens feel perplexed all of the time. E.B. White called it “chronic perplexity”. I love it here. We have both mountains of discombobulation and oceans of befuddlement. The view’s always spectacular although often foggy. And when you come out of a store, into the parking lot and you can’t find your car, no one else can either. Everyone’s holding out their key fobs, pointing them in random directions and clicking. We’re all smiling at each other’s forgetfulness. We’re not mad, only a little bit frustrated but we’ll get over it.

During life’s dynamic journey, you’ll be holding hands with a big, frightening giant called The Unknown. Make him your best friend. It’s all about failure and resilience. As you’re creating and experimenting, anxiety is your fiercest enemy, your most formidable barrier, your highest wall to climb over, the treacherous rapids, the deepest, darkest, coldest part of the ocean. Don’t let your worries win because then you’ve lost. Fall in love with fear.

Herzog calls his life and career “a never-ending educational experience, a way of discovering in which direction you need to take your own work and ideas”. Vygotsky called it “the zone of proximal development”. If your true state of mind is befuddlement, confusion and flabbergasted-ness, and you’re excited to be there, in that state, then you’ve achieved the status of STUDENT. (I like all caps almost as much as e. e. cummings liked all lower case.) (I also like parentheses.) The learner, the studier, the STUDENT is a seeker who pursues not only knowledge but also truth. They are definitely related, if not the same. This seeker, this student-person, constantly strives to become a better thinker, an improved citizen of our planet.

If you’re not confused, then you’re not learning anything new. You’re stagnating, merely showing off what you already know. Being the smartest person in the room is not only boring; it’s impossible. Each human in that room possesses insights you’ve never thought of before. Your job is to find those insights. Root them out. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Don’t respond with a statement or a judgment. Respond with another question; a related question, one that proves you’ve been listening. Vygotsky believed that true learning was “socially co-constructed between people as they interact”. Listen to the person next to you, observe, remember what you see and hear, process it and make it your own.

Although it’s not a substitute for real-time real-life experience and face-to-face interaction, the internet is here to stay. Celebrate it and use it. Don’t let it use you. Google has taught us that we don’t know everything (And wouldn’t life be boring if we did? It wouldn’t be life at all; it would be death.), but all knowledge, all secrets, all esoteric facts and theories are accessible to us with the click of a mouse. Exciting but also frightening. If you’re not scared, you’re not living. You’re not learning anything. Your journey isn’t even a journey at all; it’s a nice comfortable rest someplace boring. Get up and get going. Free fall into a state of confusion. Climb your way out. And then dive into a mystified state of befogged-ness. You won’t be too scared if you’ve fallen in love with fear.

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