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WATCHFUL WAITING

Advice columnists are experiencing a heyday not seen since the era of Dear Abby and Ann Landers, sisters who used to dish out tips in competing columns back in the 50s. Nowadays "inquiring minds" can just ask Google or Siri or Cortana, but that doesn't keep many so-called experts from dispensing their know-how on everything from money to sex to technology, to issues of etiquette, and self-worth, even life's purpose. Maybe this blog o' mine comes off as advisory, or would if it were read.

Time magazine recently did a blurb on the issues that define our present age. It seems that most people are in favor of technology, despite the trouble that it causes one's romantic and personal lives. I'm a Luddite, or as actress Janeane Garofalo puts it, a Neo-Luddite. I think smartphones give illusions of interacting while killing intimacy. In a connected world we have become disconnected and unhinged. As one columnist opines: social media brings a sense of belonging, but it's a very "hollow arrangement." And with everyone sharing lives that seem so fabulous, it becomes ever more difficult for the average person (that means you and me, and even those whose virtual lives seem so fabulous) to just exist. The death of Jane and John Doe, as it were.

And my favorite: Andrew W.K. of the Village Voice tells Time that in our age of instant gratification, with answers and the Internet of things just a mouse-click away, when all our wildest dreams can come true, we really don't know what we want. "There is a sense of being completely lost in life." In other words, exit Jane and John Doe, and enter Sartre, the French philosopher who believed life is meaningless.

Sartre was born over a hundred years ago. It seems our "existential crisis" is not so modern after all. Humans crave certainty. We are hard-wired to demand clarity in confusion and definitive answers to dilemmas. We seek out sure things. And consequently, we are averse to ambiguity. But much of life lies in the gray area of doubt, and though our tendency is to knee-jerk a response to even the most complicated questions, often decisions are best deferred until such time as a solution presents itself. And yet society presses us to choose. Act. Do something! 

Doctors for instance, often encounter patients with unclear symptoms, indeed the majority of patients present with vague nonspecific complaints, and yet in nearly 80% of these cases physicians order a definitive test or treatment, despite the fact that such a course of action may be unnecessary or even harmful, as the new book Nonsense by Jamie Holmes points out. Doctors are taught first to do no harm, but Nike, speaking louder, shouts "Just do it!" And the medical profession is not the only one whose members can be rash. Average people, our Janes and Joes of the world, do this all the time, at the grocery store (impulse buys) or when getting a tattoo (tramp stamp really?), even while selecting a mate. Because if you really thought it through, would there be so much divorce?

When faced with a big decision, rather than jump to an option, take a deep breath, and wait. In that moment of hesitation, of second-guessing, of in medical jargon, "watchful waiting," you are truly free, because you are not slave to your impulses. It is as if you have separated yourself from the technology to which you are tethered. You are not your little mind! There is freedom, and humanity, in doing nothing. To be OK with not knowing the answer. Let the solutions to life's many problems come to you. Trust inspiration, help from strangers, let the problem resolve itself. If you believe in a higher power, put it to the test in the test of life. The divine hand is more adept than the most capable physician.

Because if you are cool with ambiguity, and simply watch and wait, you'll save yourself so many future spills.

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