Embracing Uncertainty

Embracing Uncertainty

Education September 13, 2021 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
Embracing Uncertainty

Families can strive to rise above uncertainty. Here's how...

Pursue the path of discovery while living with uncertainty.” – Rabbi Yael Splansky

COVID continues to surge around the world, and people are living with the unknowns that come with vulnerability and uncertainty. Young, old, rich, poor, hopeful, saddened—everyone has felt the impact of this pandemic. In the words of Rabbi Splansky, “Living with uncertainty is hard, and it seems to be getting harder.” Every day, in some way, parents and children are coping with worry and impatience, while trying to juggle the many realities of day-to-day living.

There are challenges—some large and others small; some anticipated and others unforeseen; some manageable and others beyond our control. Across the span of history, trials and uncertainty have been ongoing. (Fires, floods, drought, plagues, …) And now? “The global pandemic, climate change, social inequities, and economic uncertainties are all crying out for attention.” (Matthews and Foster, 2021, p. 42) There are, and always will be, pressing and unanswered questions across diverse fields—medicine, psychology, education, religion, politics, and more.

Nevertheless, humankind has prevailed. Problem-solving, determination, collective efforts, creative thinking, and optimism help to stabilize people when forward momentum falters or journeys grow overly turbulent. In his book, Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization (2020), and in his blog What Humans Could Be, Scott Barry Kaufman writes, “It’s often during the most trying times of humanity that we see the best of humanity emerge.” And, psychologist Erich Fromm wrote that the quest for certainty can impede the search for meaning, whereas uncertainty impels people to unfold their “powers.” In other words, there’s potency to hopes and dreams, and there's potential aligned with purpose.

We’ve had to be especially hopeful, resilient, and resourceful these past couple of years during the COVID crisis, while continuing to find paths of discovery and forbearance. Creativity has become a lifeline for many who seek solace, who are looking for fresh or alternative coping mechanisms, or who want to follow aspirations or accelerate personal growth during times of uncertainty. Creative expression is not a form of indulgence. It’s a pleasure and, for many, it serves as a conduit for manageability, life balance, fulfillment, and salvation.

How Can Adults Help Children Tap Creativity In Times Of Uncertainty?

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Here are several suggestions for parents and teachers:

  • Demonstrate why creativity matters. Stoke those hopes and dreams! Creativity is a choice, and children who choose to be creative have an edge that strengthens their ability to cope and to learn by opting to go forth in new and exciting directions. Parents are prime role models for teaching children the benefits of using ingenuity and living creatively. If, as psychologist Erich Fromm writes, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties” then uncertainty provides an optimal milieu for creative expression—and personal growth. (See Parenting for Creativity and the many other articles in my column at The Creativity Post for hundreds of practical strategies to encourage and support children’s creativity.)
  • Be grateful for small blessings and wonders. Appreciate curiosity, awe, and novelty. They are a source from whence creative outpouring can flow. Socrates said, “Wisdom begins in wonder.” A single inquiry, choice, observation, melody, inspirational quote, or unexpected feeling can trigger motivation and positive reactions, or spark a creative and potentially invigorating response—any of which can lead to possibilities for making wise decisions, dealing effectively with unpredictability, or enhancing well-being.
  • Help children understand that “change” is inevitable. Ironically, certainty is uncertain; it depends upon the whims of Father Time, Mother Nature, and the vicissitudes of life. Nobody knows for sure what the future holds. However, philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel puts a positive spin on uncertainty calling it “the refuge of hope.” Indeed, psychology teaches us that in the face of challenge and uncertainty, individuals who adapt well to change are most likely to succeed. Encourage your child to be flexible, imaginative, and willing to exert effort to make things work, and to recognize that uncertainty can become a pivotal point for seeking fresh perspectives and ways to flourish.
  • Emphasize the value of learning. Acknowledge what you don’t know and exhibit a desire to develop your own intellectual and social-emotional competencies. Model open communication, resourcefulness, reflection, and the desire to problem-solve. “Give children opportunities to connect uncertainty and effort with the joy of discovery…“ Stretching boundaries enables meaningful engagement with the world” (Matthews and Foster, 2021, p. 220 & p. 383). Help children relinquish self-doubts through the acquisition of knowledge, by being open to experience, and by taking initiative.
  • Show children that you have faith in their abilities. Faith may have to do with spiritual strength, beliefs, convictions, or confidence. Rabbi Splansky says, “Faith can pick up where certainty runs out, tapers off, or runs short. Faith is a reality less seen, less revealed, less known when life seems uncertain." Those “lessons” are compelling reasons to draw upon faith, and to convey its importance to children. When they sense that others have faith in them, they’re more inclined to believe in themselves. This applies to abilities, creativity, productivity, and other processes that can make them stronger and wiser. Children have the capacity to change, work hard, act kindly, reflect, and contribute to their communities in creative and constructive ways.

Last Words

There is no certainty; there is only adventure.” – Roberto Assagioli, psychologist

We variously ride the ebb and flow of uncertainty with anticipation, disappointment, joy, fear, frustration, nervousness, surprise… and often with the words What if? resounding in our thoughts. Children too, are prone to such feelings and thoughts. There’s a way forward if we recognize that certainty is generally an “illusion” (Oliver Wendell Homes), “absurd” (Voltaire), and an “intellectual vice” (Bertrand Russell), and that we should therefore make the most of uncertainty—moving from enduring or acknowledging it to embracing it. We must get busy being the best we can be. The future depends on it.

Author's note:

I’m always inspired by the words of Rabbi Yael Splansky, Senior Rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. She regularly and graciously shares her experience and wisdom. Her sermon, delivered on Sept. 8th 2021, provided the creative impetus for this article.

About the Author

Dr. Joanne Foster is a gifted education specialist, and the award-winning author of several books, including the 3rdedition of Being Smart Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews, published by Gifted Unlimited LLC., 2021. www.giftedunlimitedllc.com). For additional resources on creativity, learning, productivity, children’s well-being, and more go to www.joannefoster.ca

Content in this article has been adapted from material within her new book, Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (2021)

Being Smart about Gifted Learning provides up-to-date perspectives so that parents, grandparents, and teachers have current knowledge about how to support the development of giftedness, creativity, and talent in the children and teens in their lives. Dr. Dona Matthews and Dr. Joanne Foster address pressing questions and concerns, and share hundreds of resources in this third edition of their award-winning book. The authors focus on helping families find a healthy balance that will nurture children’s exceptional abilities, optimal development, and well-being. Being Smart about Gifted Learning can be ordered here at Gifted Unlimited LLC. (Coming fall, 2021.)

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