Why Answers Don’t Matter

2013 April 4

It doesn’t matter why he didn’t call after what you thought was an awesome date. It doesn’t matter why you didn’t get that job even after nailing the interview. It doesn’t matter why the Rite-Aid cashier rolled her eyes at you. The reasons why do not matter.

It’s utterly liberating to contemplate. Someone did or said (or didn’t do or didn’t say) something. An event happened. This is all you know. This is all you need to know. You don’t need to fill in the empty space with “truth” or speculation or justification. It doesn’t need to be filled. The fact is that the information you are so desperate to know that you create and tell yourself a version of it your head just to keep calm and carry on won’t change anything. You still don’t get a second date or a job or a smile at the checkout.

But how can you get better? Avoid making the same mistakes? Improve your performance? You don’t need more information to do any of that. Because what you’re really asking when you pose those questions is How can I give someone else more of what they want? How can I be more of what they want? And those are the wrong damn questions to pose.

Recently,  someone asked me if I wanted to talk, someone I hadn’t talked to in a long time and missed. And I started second-guessing the offer immediately. Maybe this person is just being polite, or feels obligated or is trying to do the “right” thing and maybe this person is hoping I’ll say no. But I didn’t have any of that information and I couldn’t reasonably get it. All I had was my need and an offer that would fill that need. All that was unequivocally true and verifiable was that someone had typed the words on the screen and that I had sufficient literacy to read them and understand the content of the sentence. The intent, the authenticity, the context were all out of my hands. So, I said yes. I read no more or less into those words than their dictionary meanings and I accepted the offer. And it felt really good to talk. And I felt calmer and happier and just all-around better after it. I didn’t watch the clock or try to talk only about happy things or edit myself in order to make sure the person didn’t regret extending the offer.

As a journalist, it’s very difficult not to think in stories. I’m trained to take three or four bits of info and create a whole narrative out of them, but that instinct doesn’t serve me well outside of work. There are things we can’t know, won’t know, shouldn’t know. Understanding that sometimes all we get is the words on the screen, the eye roll, the radio silence is both difficult to accept and amazingly freeing to embrace.

What you don’t know won’t kill you.

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