Can what we don’t know hurt us?


How we feel about the unknown- it’s quite a paradox.

On the one hand, we like a little mystery, crave adventure, spontaneity, and fresh, new experiences. We become shifty, anxious, or even panicked if we feel stuck in a situation (such as a relationship) that is undesirably mundane.

Yet at the same time, we are life-long scientists- searching for the objective ‘truth,’ hard evidence, or ground-breaking discovery that will enable us to know more. Our level of comfort all too quickly dissipates when we do not/cannot know something that we wish to. This often exceeds our desire for novelties and leaves us in a place of angst.

So, I ask- aside from pure curiosity, what is behind our relentless need to know, even when we may not necessarily want to? And, for some, such as those experiencing anxiety, why does it seem so difficult to tolerate the unknown? I believe it has to do with misconceptions of knowledge and control.

On a surface level, being unsure about something or not knowing what the future will hold may seem vastly different from being ignorant or unintelligent- but on a deeper level, these ideas may manifest in our thoughts and behaviors in similar ways. While we are young, not knowing is acceptable, maybe even cute- but as we “grow up” it becomes less and less desirable. As adults in our society, when we don’t know, there is not only an assumption of ignorance (literally not having the knowledge or information) but also an assumption of a lack of intelligence (the capacity to learn). This can be very harmful. In an extreme version, assuming that someone has a diminished capacity to learn (low intelligence) because they are lacking knowledge or information (ignorance) can negate their success, destroy their ego, influence their career options, and argumentatively, degrade the way that they are treated. Why? Because it leaves them in a position of inferiority and insecurity, portraying them as sub-par and without hope. They are no longer in control of their individual destiny, but are subject to judgments and decisions about who they are and what they have the potential to do. Thus, the unknown can also be daunting when it is associated with a lack of control.

On a basic level, we believe that if we know, then we can control. Logically, this does not make a lot of sense because there are too many variables for us to have control over most things, however, we cling to this false reality in order to feel safe. Because if we are not in control, who is? Our parents? The government? God? A higher power, cosmic force, fate? Scary, I know. But, the truth is that as spiritual or carefree as we may be, as sure as we are in our convictions, anxiety will eventually creep in if we try to figure everything out. It’s impossible. And it’s a pain-staking quest that will leave us unfulfilled.

As much as we desire to know, we also need the unknown. So that we can balance out the extremes of *stalking someone on Facebook, asking them 21 questions, and gazing into their souls for three straight months* with *just not being that into them anymore and feeling confused as to why.* So that we can learn, grow, stretch our minds, and get knocked off our feet sometimes. Yes, it would probably be much simpler for us to grow old at that 9-5 job and wear our hair in that adorable mushroom cut we had as kids- but something inside pulls us to explore, to seek out spontaneity and excitement. It’s that moment right before something happens, when we are left in anticipation, looking straight into the unknown that makes us feel alive… So why not give up the quest to know before we need to and to control when we cannot?