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What Do I Know Fo’ Sure Anyway?

The older I get, the less I seem to know for sure. It’s not that I lack wisdom, but life is not a clear-cut, fixed matter, but an ever-changing, fluid experience. Each moment is new and is filled with the wonder and mystery of the unknown.

As a child, life appeared certain. I lived in a comfort zone which protected me from the reality of a world complete with ambiguity, paradox and difficult challenges. As I became older, reality uprooted the foundation of my world. I could no longer hide behind my black and white thinking that served me well as a youngster.

Control is an Illusion

As an adult, I learned to embrace the insecurity that comes with the unpredictable nature of life. According to Alan Watts, holding onto security is like trying to grab water into your hands – it is elusive. Holding too tightly onto matters brings to mind "the law of reverse effort." Hanging on is more likely to make us feel out of control.

Although the very fabric of my life has been shaken, the good news is that things appear adventurous. Every day is a new journey, with excitement as I travel into the unknown. I am on a wild, crazy ride that leads me to conclude, "What do I know for sure, anyway?"

Consider this. One traveler gets on a plane with a destination for home. She is excited about seeing her family. However, the plane goes down in the Everglades of Florida and all passengers are lost. A friend of hers makes a last-minute change in her flight plans, deciding to stay in Miami for another day. She wakes up in the morning and is confronted with the horrible news. Why did she survive, while her friend did not? Some would like to provide us with the comfort of their philosophical or religious explanations. In my opinion, they are not good enough.

Two Roads Diverge…

What about this scenario? A child is raised in a home filled with parental abuse. As he enters into adulthood, he struggles to "find himself" and eventually ends up being a successful partner, father and businessman. His brother grows up in the same environment, and moves into adulthood lashing out at the world, blaming others for his failure to function and achieve. Is there an answer to this dilemma?

From my own experience, I have a disorder called fibromyalgia. Some doctors think it’s "in my head." All I know is that I chronically ache all over with trigger points on muscles that hurt on contact. It is painful when my skin is touched. Does anyone know why this happens? There are clues, but no definitive answers and no clear-cut solutions to fix the problem. Women tend to suffer from it more than men. I’m not sure why that’s the case and neither are the doctors.

More kids these days are suffering from autistic spectrum disorders. It appears to be a neurologically-based problem which affects children’s ability to communicate and establish appropriate social relationships with age-mates. These children appear rigid and controlling in their behaviors and latch onto a topic that they perseverate about. Nutritional clues to this syndrome have not materialized as causes, so we are left with an uncertainty as to why autism occurs and why it is increasing in frequency. There are no
easy answers.

The Paradox of Those Know-It-Alls

Ironically, there are individuals and groups who feel that they know it all. They tend to have all the right answers, and can back their ideas up with "talking points," biblical interpretations, and personal experience. For these people, life appears easier because there are no gray areas or ambiguities in life. They are splendid advise-givers and tell me and others how to think and believe. My gay friends tell me they were born that way and love the same God that I do. But, does the Bible tell me so…? What do I know for sure?

Individuals who always think they are right are frightening to me. Hitler claimed he was right and look what happened as evil impacted the lives of millions. David Koresh believed he was right and what a mess that created. For those who profess to be right, there are no options to their way of thinking. Just recently, I read a politically motivated article in which the author ended with, "Jesus Christ endorses this message." I believe that using religion in this way is disingenuous and blasphemous – but, what do I know?

Embracing the Adventure

I wish life was as simple as many make it out to be. I would feel less strife. However, it would not be authentic. It would leave me living in a bubble away from the complex realities of life. The simplicity would also take the adventure and wonder out of living with uncertainty. I do not know why certain things happen the way they do. I can live with that. After all, what do I know for sure anyway?

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James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is an educator, writer, licensed professional counselor and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He specializes in treating anxiety and depressive disorders. He served as a teacher and guidance counselor for 30 years and has taught graduate-level counselor education courses for Chapman University. In 2005, he self-published Stepping Out of the Bubble: Reflections on the Pilgrimage of Counseling Therapy ( His latest book, Troubled Childhood, Triumphant Life: Healing from the Battle Scars of Youth (New Horizon Press) is about the impact of troubled childhoods on adult functioning. James lives and is a practicing counselor in Scottsdale, Arizona.