Monday, 24 May 2010

Patterns of uncertainty

I have lived with patterns of uncertainty about my future for many years, but the last three in particular, have been dominated by the knowledge that my task for next year is unknown. My awareness of this reality comes in waves. Sometimes I do not think of it at all, I take each day as it comes. At other times, it haunts me and I long for clarity. Most of the time, I hit a merry medium between these too and do my best to achieve what I can for the future in the present moment I am living.

This year, and more precisely these coming weeks, the sense of uncertainty about my future is escalating, and perhaps because decisions will have to be made soon, and actions must be taken to decide how best to proceed, I am becoming more stubborn in my attitude of hope.

For those not in the know, I am doing a DPhil in Theology at the University of Oxford. My main thesis is to suggest that solidarity, as an attitude and way of living is a fundamental part of communicating truthfully. Relationships with others are integral to how we communicate with each other. For these reasons, to appreciate another through the eyes of love is to see them truly, for, religiously speaking, it was in the eyes of love that they were created. So far so good, but to complicate matters, my thesis seeks to to suggest that speaking truthfully is an obligation of journalistic practice. It attempts to move religious concepts into what is known as the 'secular forum'. I use the philosophy of Alastair MacIntyre to speak about a 'confused' conception of what it means to be truthful in journalistic practice; argue that journalism is an expression of human community, all human activity is aimed towards achieving a social good, and that the good of social communication, viz. newspapers, is functional societal relationships. For this reason truth telling has remained the predominant passion of journalism for centuries. For journalism to speak truthfully about the societies it observes it needs to use fraternal language, language which is creative rather than destructive, which looks at the relationship of all people to each other and sees each as equal, which expresses rather than asserts, which promotes the integral development of all.

Well, that was a short run through. Anyhow, thus far my project remains 'unfunded'. This means that for the last two years I have met my financial obligations in a rather hand to mouth manner, taking jobs where I can to pay fees, bills and find food and wine! Fortunately, Oxford is quite a good place to live this kind of lifestyle, and by taking teaching where I can, I survive happily. As with last year though, this year I face a new round of uncertainty about the future. Firstly, I must pass a set of exams in order to continue with my work. Then, if I am fortunate to succeed through that hurdle, I must magic out of thin air the finances needed for another year. By a miracle the last academic year worked out well, and by God's grace the next one might still be to come. However, just at the moment, the future is, as ever, dark. If I fail my exams, or cannot continue financially, I will be looking for a job by July.

The patterns of uncertainty that mark life, however, teach me some things about how to approach such situations. People frequently call me an optimist, but I reject that label. Optimism would imply that I expect certain things to turn out for the best, exam results, money, somewhere to live, etc. Hope is different. Hope looks at the future and considers that all of the future, and there is a lot of it, is in God's hands. The minutiae of this moment may not be clear to me yet, but perhaps one day it will. In the meantime, the best I can do is trust that divine hands are good hands and look toward the future without the need to know exactly what it looks like. And I guess that is what to be hopeful about the future in the face of uncertainty means for me. It does not change what I would like to do next year, for I aspire to complete my project; but, it does leave me open to the suggestion that if things do not go my way, turning to take a new direction is not a turn towards the past. It is but a new way forward, with horizons different from the ones I thought were there before. And what, after all is said and done, is so bad about a change of scenery?

Some would argue that such a response to uncertainty is passive, fatalist even. But, I think that is a mistake. I am not passive, but actively participate in the steps that must be taken towards the future, even if they are in darkness. I am not afraid of the dark, and have always been blessed with the gift of knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Onwards.

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