So it’s a very different world than when I signed out five months ago to have a baby. Silly statement, right, I mean of course the world is different. But this world I’m re-entering is profoundly different. Popular uprisings trembling across North Africa and the Middle East. (And here I was moaning about Ghaddaffi grooming his son for a takeover. Shows you what I know.) The weather – this time a tsunami and tornadoes — yet again humbling us, forcing us to flee like victims in some old sci-fi flick. And now, now the world’s great bête noir, Osama bin Laden, is no more. Most of us had to read that headline a few times to believe it; sat watching the television coverage with the same disbelief we felt during 9-11, itself. But all these events have left us like that: spellbound, gasping to catch our breath, wondering if pictures of thundering funnel clouds or Libyan freedom fighters or bloodied beds were actually real. Each of these events has fundamentally altered our social landscape; and in the process expanded our understanding of what is possible in this world; destabilised our basic belief that the workings of the world are something we can largely predict.
My husband is reading Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a book that has him experiencing a sort of existential crisis. Every now and then he gazes into the middle distance and starts quoting the book, trying to sift through its message. The book is, in a blog-sized nutshell, about the futility of long range planning because of the disproportionate effect of individual, unpredictable events. Its subtitle is “The Impact of the Highly Improbable”. The author is basically urging us to accept life’s unpredictability – no, more than that, to embrace that unpredictability — as a means of managing it.
These past five months have been fodder for Taleb’s thesis. Osama bin Laden killed in a Pakistan suburb, then buried at sea. Who could have predicted it? And does that unpredictability exhilarate us by reminding us of the vast potential for change? Or does it leave us cowering, clinging to as many known variables as we can grasp our minds or fingers around?
Probably a bit of both, depending upon the event. All I know is that as I start to re-engage with the world – in between pureeing parsnips and wiping my toddler’s nose – I find myself often staring into this changed landscape, bracing myself for what might come next, unsure of whether I feel humbled or inspired.