There are no absolute guarantees in life. When you fully understand and embrace that statement, you will have finally grown up. On a mundane level, we have product guarantees that give us assurance that our vehicles and appliances will last for a certain amount of time. Some guarantees state they are in effect for a lifetime.
Back in the early 1950s, my uncle Les purchased a ballpoint pen because it had a lifetime warranty. He delighted in telling how that company had replaced his pen five times. He laughed that the commitment to his ballpoint pen was more long-lived than his life-long commitment to my aunt. The day uncle Les died, all his lifetime guarantees expired.
We live in an uncertain world within an uncertain Universe. Uncertainty is a frightening thing to sentient beings like humans. We struggle to create some semblance of certainty in our lives and our societies. Not only do we build great, solid architectural structures designed to withstand the tests of time, but we invent mental institutions designed to assure us that we, ourselves, will withstand the passage of time.
The very planet we think of as solid, and certain really has an uncertain future. Who knows if some celestial object will collide with Earth and shatter us to bits? There is an hypothesis we understand, with only “reasonable certainty”, which states that billions of years from now, our planet will be engulfed in the Sun when our star goes Supernova. Just thinking about this ultimate lack of permanence can feel unnerving. Eventually, the things and ideas we believe are certainties, will end. This is the only authentic certainty that exists.
Our instinct for survival is at the heart of the desire for certainty and permanence. This instinct is so strong that some people accuse others of heresy if their social institutions are unlike ones own. Anyone who teaches something that contradicts our own beliefs must be severely punished or even killed. We believe we have found absolute answers and we won’t allow them to be threatened by contrary evidence.
There are hundreds of ideologies and religions that fervently proclaim that they, alone, possess the best answers to address uncertainty. Each one says they have the one true path to certainty and salvation. Because these institutions frequently disagree with each other, they add to anxiety, confusion, and uncertainty.
This is a high stakes struggle because most people demand assurance of certainty. Because, to these people, certainty is possibly the most important mental aspect in life. Their version of certainty is most critical. This is why we are told to respect other people’s belief systems.
In reality, the most comforting answers we cling to are not to be manifested, anywhere, by or from anybody.
If we are sincere and truthful to ourselves we find no way to satisfy our deepest longings for certain answers. We build castles in the sky that have no foundations. Our most beautiful concepts are ultimately threatened by evidence. We react to this knowledge by attacking the messenger. Contrary messages must be silenced. We then armor ourselves by burrowing deeper into the tenets of our institutions.
The deep, unspeakable doubt about the certainty of belief is the root of fanaticism. It is the underlying thought that some other alternative belief might be true, causes the extremists to lash out at those individuals who don’t conform to “acceptable” beliefs. Soon, we find examples of self-justification, sanctimonious self-righteousness, and witch-hunts. Eventually, this dissonance leads to the most vicious sectarian conflicts that escalate to wars.
It seems that every generation travels down the same road of confirming themselves by attaching themselves to particular beliefs in certainty. Only a precious few seem to understand that to repeat history is a grave mistake.
Some people eventually come to the conclusion that acceptance of our world is an effective way to discover peace of mind. It is possible to live joyfully in this world that is chaotic, horrifying, unpredictable, and ambiguous. Those people have realized that knowing the reality of impermanence and uncertainty, has enabled them to most fully realize that life is supremely precious.