We are encumbered by a cultural imperative to value clarity and to have the correct answer. The need to distance ourselves from confusion is mandated by the judgment that confusion, a close relative of uncertainty, is weak and to be shunned. Many people disguise their confusion, as they are embarrassed by it and may even feign certainty. Our educational system is founded upon a learning style that mediates toward certainty and evokes a discomfort with confusion. The confused student is offered after class help or advised to see a tutor. The confused worker may feel ashamed and hide their confusion in fear, limiting the opportunity to resolve their struggle to understand.
Our compulsion for certainty actually thwarts the process of deeper understanding and achieving higher levels of complexity and knowing. The nature of mind is to comprehend—to understand. Yet, we often avoid venturing into the uncertainty of new terrain, where higher levels of knowing occur because of our discomfort with confusion. This problem is much rooted in the dictates of the Newtonian paradigm of certainty. Insights, breakthroughs and turning points typically emerge by embracing the murkiness of confusion. If we paradoxically altered our relationship with confusion and valued it as a vital tool in attaining higher levels of awareness, we’d lift open the hatch that imprisons our learning.
The drive to understand needs to be but a temporary resting place. Once clarity is achieved, we must pursue our next level of complexity—not understanding and once again embracing confusion. This state often requires permitting the dissonance of holding the tension of contradictions. Allowing opposing ideas or notions to coexist—living with confusion—sets the stage for the alchemy of the next insight. And with this we spiral up to the next level of understanding. Moving toward a premature resolution of confusion stymies new learning. How novel might it be to honor confusion? When I’m perplexed I welcome that state as I anticipate the eventual lifting of that confusion with a breath of new thinking. Hence, confusion becomes a vital and necessary component of authentic learning and new thinking.