There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so

It strikes me that there are very few things that are straightforward nowadays; very few that don’t have built in ambiguity. I suppose that’s what makes life interesting, though -too much certainty would be boring, too little would be disconcerting. A stew without multiple ingredients just would not do.

Still, it’s not ambiguity I crave; I want to understand whatever I am confronted with in case there is a choice that has to be made -but understanding and choosing are separate entities. To have difficulty in choosing may suggest that I’m confused, rather than ambivalent -that I don’t clearly understand the ramifications of the choices. No, not only do I want to be able to balance alternatives and confront opposing evaluations, but I also want to understand what it is I am choosing… and why. It’s a dance, I think.

And I love the dance; it keeps me on my feet. I enjoy sorting out the tension of the alternatives pulling on me, weighing the pros and cons of an argument, attempting to balance the validity of differing views. And then having to make a considered choice -even if it’s not one my friends would make.

Several months ago, I happened across my friend Keith walking his dog in a park near my house, his mask hanging like a pendant around his neck.

“Hey, G, you going to John’s on Friday?” Keith was not big on ‘hello’, or ‘how-are-you’ -he liked to get right to the meat.

John and Keith are both good friends of mine, and we often met in the Food Court of a nearby mall on Wednesday mornings when their wives shooed them out of their houses for a break. But I hadn’t heard from John lately, so I shook my head.

“Yeah, he’s planning a little barbeque in his yard,” Keith continued. “He was going to ask his wife if she agreed.”

I smiled weakly, all too aware of the Covid restrictions on gatherings. “John hasn’t phoned me yet,” I said, wondering if he and his wife had simply decided they could only accommodate Keith and Denise in his small yard and still socially distance. “But isn’t he worried about the virus?”

Keith shrugged; he and John lived in a different world. “He says he’s got it all figured out, G…” He stared off in the distance, as his dog tugged at the leash, but I thought he looked embarrassed. “I mean, there’d be plenty of room in his yard, eh?”

“For all five of us…?” I lived alone, so often I was considered a loose cannon by their wives -there was nobody kicking me under the table or tugging on my sleeve when I said something I shouldn’t. Also, I had my doubts about the safety of a group of friends gathering together in a small yard, laughing and joking with each other through lowered masks.

“We’ll be outside, eh? Plenty of ventilation anyway,” Keith said, smiling at my objection.

I took a deep breath and thought about it. John was a diabetic, and although well-controlled on his pills, and diet, he was still at increased risk if he were exposed to Covid. “Well, at any rate, he hasn’t called me, so maybe his wife figured five would be too many… Jana usually makes his decisions.”

“No problem, G,” Keith said as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll just ask him.”

But I shook my head. “If he wanted me there, he’d have called.”

Keith tilted his head like he always does when he thinks I’m being silly. “Look, G, we’ve all been vaccinated, right?”

I nodded. “But only the first two shots. Who knows how effective it is until we have the booster?”

Keith wagged his head and blinked at me as if I was being silly. “You worry too much, G.”

“I’d worry even more if he got Covid, Keith. I mean he’s seventy… what? Seventy three? With diabetes… and didn’t he have a heart attack a few years ago?”

Keith rolled his eyes. “That was me, G. But the doc says as long as I stay on the ASA and the statins, I don’t have to worry.”

“Well, I’m worried about you both, Keith. You’re both high risk, and if you get the virus…”

“Anyway, you don’t have any underlying conditions,” Keith said with a little sigh. “You run, you hike, you go for long bike rides up and down the hills.” A wry smile crept over his lips. “A car’s gonna get you before the virus, G…”

“My point exactly, Keith,” I said, smiling at the black humour. “And it’s not me I’m worried about…”

“Well, let me phone…” he said, but slowly, and with a concerned look on his face. He seemed uncharacteristically ambivalent.

I took a long breath and let it out slowly. “Keith, I don’t want you embarrassing him for not asking me.”

But Keith was shaking his head. “You got me thinking about it, G. Denise was giving me the third degree about it, too…”

“So…” I searched his face for a clue about what he was thinking.

“So, I’m gonna phone John and tell him Denise was worried about meeting… Until we all get our boosters, that is.”

There’s usually a solution if you’re open to it, I suppose. It was why I was interested in an article I later found in one of my apps. It was an essay about ambivalence, written by Iris Schneider, a professor of psychology at the University of Cologne in Germany.

‘When experiencing ambivalence, you’re not uncertain about what’s going on: something is quite clearly both positive and negative, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, and you know it… ambivalence requires integrating opposing thoughts and ideas… To deal with these contradictions, the mind stretches itself to think more broadly and be more flexible. This cognitive breadth and flexibility, in turn, helps you be more open minded… That’s why, when people are in an ambivalent mindset, they search for more information and for information that’s more diverse. And because of the breadth of their thinking, ambivalent people can make more unexpected and broader connections between unrelated elements of a problem, leading to more creativity and innovation.’

I don’t know if I’d class Keith’s idea of blaming his wife for turning down the invitation as the best way of solving the problem; it was only mildly creative and he uses it all the time when he doesn’t want to be forced to choose. I suppose it’s a great way to resolve ambivalence, though.


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