In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

It’s thought that Benjamin Franklin used the words above that we’re most familiar with when he wrote a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789. Franklin is famous for a number of things aside from this rather melancholic lament. The so-called ‘Franklin Effect‘ is named after Benjamin Franklin and is a means of gaining popularity with people by seeking to get them to do something for you. Apparently, our likeness of people is increased if we do things for them. Sales people know this only to well so watch out if you find yourself doing things for the sales person at the door!

My reason for writing this post was sparked by something I heard Martin Lewis, he of fame, who commented that he wished pupils in schools were taught about uncertainty and how to manage it. His thoughts were somewhat echoed by one of the BBC’s financial experts Andy Verity too.

Never let it be said that I don’t respond to what’s being uttered in the press so here are my thoughts on the subject: Uncertainty and how to handle it.

What, I think, Martin Lewis was alluding to is that people put too much trust in what they decide to buy and invest in and pay little if any regard to the risks involved. It’s as if people regard it as a cast-iron guarantee that it will succeed. Just ask those who bought tickets for the Olympics in 2012 how they feel having spent hundreds if not thousands of pounds and have no tickets to show for it. One of the reasons for our assumption that success is certain is that key word in this paragraph: trust. We tend to trust what people tell us especially if they are in authority. Powerchange talks of  7 Triggers that lead to ourselves responding in the ways that we do. ‘Authority’ is an enormous influence on our behaviours. We instinctively trust that ‘authority’ is acting on our behalf and has our best interests at heart. Often they do; quite often they don’t especially when there can be a conflict of interest and they don’t have your best interests at heart. Businesses are out to make money and if they don’t operate on a win-win basis they will make; you will lose. I remember hearing Theo Pathitis – he of Dragon’s Den fame – commenting that there were three reasons for a business and two of them were to make money.

Uncertainty, interestingly, is quite new in the world of physics. Classical physics predicted that with certainty events could be recorded. Then, quantum physics came along. Heisenberg and other physicists began reporting that events at subatomic level couldn’t be predicted with certainty.  Even studying the event in the first place would affect the outcome. Further, the act of studying the event brought the event into fruition in the first place!

Quoting Heisenberg:

The “path” comes into existence only when we observe it.
–Heisenberg, in uncertainty principle paper, 1927

Some physicists have disputed Heisenberg’s uncertainty claims but most agree with his conclusions. Subatomic particles behave uncertainly. You just don’t know what they are going to do.

So, if modern physics can’t predict the likelihood of an event (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle has considerable implications for everything that occurs by the way but that’s another story) is it no wonder there’s so much uncertainty in every day living. Yet, we live our lives placing so much certainty in events. How is that?

Essentially, we trust that what we have bought will bring dividends. Sadly, this might not be the case. We live in very uncertain times and austerity measures remain very much part of the world where we’re trying hard to cope. Certain behaviours increase the likelihood of disappointment. Taking excessive risk, seeking quick fix ‘wins’ and making countless decisions that are solely emotionally driven can lead to much sadness. It’s not that risk is a bad thing though. Far from it. Risk is a good thing, as a fascinating article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2005. The article was titled Risk is Good – Learn to Manage it. Wise words. How we manage risk is the essential part so many can be missing. Managing risk presupposes cognitive thought (aka: using your head and not only your heart). Risk is important to us and it’s character-building too. Otherwise, we would be compelled to stay in our beds and never leave the house through fear of what might happen to us if we do. That’s not how I want to live.

There are many things in this world beyond our control. So. what would it be like if we focused on the things that we can control? Worrying about what you can’t control is both pointless and unnecessarily stressful. Control the controllable, manage the risk and while uncertainty remains you’ve done your best to reduce its influence on the event.

Is anything certain aside from death and taxes? Personally, as a Christian, I believe that there are things that you can be certain of and if you want to know what I think by all means drop some thoughts below.

If uncertainty is so unhelpful it must be of no use then! Actually, uncertainty is very useful in many ways. Fluorescent lamps, the computer that you’re reading this blog on and many other technologies owe their improvements, if not their existence, to the uncertainty principle. Besides, to be certain of everything would lead to complacency. There would be no need to ‘be on your guard’, as you’d know what was going to happen on every occasion. It would admonish personal responsibility for actions too since it would be already ‘written in the stars’, fate: predestined. I don’t want to live like that, as it would take away, by definition, being able to genuinely make a choice, and the resultant responsibility for the action that I’ve taken in making that choice. I take full responsibility for the decisions that I make. I hope, and pray, that they are ones that not only benefit me but others too.

I would really appreciate it if you’d comment and share this post via Facebook and Twitter. It’s with no certainty that you will of course and quite rightly that is your choice.