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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Human Uncertainty Principle

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A typical scene for a Friday night on campus is you and your friends hanging out, doing something together. But everything else seems atypical, including who exactly you wound up with, the activity, and the place. I could describe my Friday two weeks ago as atypical. Who would have known that I would be playing an awesome group game with fun company, and at short notice! It was better than being stuck in the Libe, which I almost did. That wasn’t the only atypical thing. Looking around the room we played in, I notice that half the double is populated half-way with the bric-a-brac of one. “Where’s your roommate?” I ask. “He’s left,” the other roommate replies. By “left” he meant left the college indefinitely.

At first thought, this was another sign of how I was doing with the grand “Guess Who” game I play with myself at every start of the term. As in, “Guess who’s off-campus this term?” Or “Guess who’s back?” You must have played this game, too. I’ll have you know, my game presently is weak. Nothing beats the serendipity of hugging a friend returned from abroad. There is also nothing that beats the sheer awkwardness of messaging friends about Frisbee before dinner, only to find out one of them is on leave. It becomes normal to expect the coming and going of people after enough terms at Carleton. But as normal as it is for some of us to return, it’s just as common for some of us not to return, whether it’s for a long while, or for good.

I’ll make three confessions. First, leaving campus like that seems initially unimaginable to me. This lack of imagination comes from my limited experience where, through either innate habit or whatever socialization I’ve had, I prefer living known, familiar paths. In that vein, I preclude anything that strays from the sentiment, “Finish your four years here, continuously.” However, I would be silly to ignore the unexpected events. My imagination and empathy kick in. Meaningful opportunities could come up, and then you might find yourself taking a gap year. Or difficulties could come out of the blue at home or elsewhere, and you may be called away, however long it may be, sometimes without your control. I can’t dare forget too that community membership isn’t static. Sometimes we fall out of it after sobering assessments and realizations, or due to powers beyond our control. That conventional “four years” is overrated, more so now than ever. Or any solid path.

Life fluidly unfolds with new uncertainties every day. Thinking about and remembering those who have left Carleton, for all reasons, reminds me of this. It seems that I’ve faced change more than I would have expected. This leads me to a second confession: I actually don’t like the uncertainty that comes with the changes surrounding us…the possible futures that follow. Perhaps it is a base emotion, but if you consider the constant coming and going of people in the short time we’re here, including those that leave us, you have to wonder how certain we can really be of our paths, of our relationships. What then of our paths and relationships after Carleton and beyond? If you wonder long enough, the result could be maddening.

On all sorts of levels, we get uncomfortable with the uncertainty that comes with change. Who can blame us? We fear what we don’t understand. I’d say it’s a human principle, one intensified by our modern age. One only needs to watch the news to understand. Cultures, economies, social structures, technologies, all of them and more have changed so much, fast enough that others feel left behind, unsure of the changes. How else to partially explain all sorts of dangerous reactionary populism (our elections are 11 months away!), economic discontentment and marginalization, and every variety of denial and negation of the complex world we live in? Uncertainty about the future drives us into taking righteous actions, risking drastic measures, hunkering down in our ideological bunkers, being spiteful and wanting to hide. I want to hide from all this. Haven’t you wanted to?

You know what, I lied. Scratch that confession. In spite of all this base fear of the uncertainty of changes, I’d still rather not hide. It may be that I am rather “fond of all life,” to quote the long-suffered Old Lady in Voltaire’s Candide, who called this fondness a “dangerous principle.” It is dangerous to try to live amidst uncertainty, amidst changes. Others have lived through it all. And I suppose a little danger is exciting. It’s worth a shot.

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