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 I really don't know anything

Copyright © 1997, Dorian Scott Cole

We go in droves to see the films like The Jerk, or Dumb and Dumber. Dumb is the unexpected thing - we laugh at the unexpected. But when confronted with stupidity in daily life, we scorn it. And we chase after knowledge in fear that we might be - yuk! - stupid. 

Knowledge is, we think, the key to everything. If we can just know enough, we can do everything, have everything, perhaps even know our way to eternal life. 

The eternal. We try to describe the unknowable - it is all knowing, all powerful. We cast those words in more impressive jargon: omniscient, omnipotent. Through a word, a symbol, we can make something knowable. God is omnipotent. God is love. God is this big, and can do this much, and we can see the evidence of God in history, and through analyzing religious history we can know God. And we can define and redefine religious experience until we pin down exactly what is God and exactly what is man. 

And then we run into a question we can't answer, and we start all over again - modifying definitions, and searching new paths, until we find new answers that explain to us the unknowable. For a moment we are satisfied. Our hunger for answers is quenched. We think we have unraveled God. We are able to live for a moment knowing our place in the world.

I heard answers, as a young teen, and thought that I had found knowledge. But as an older teen I found new questions. I sought answers again and as a young man I found answers that answered everything - I had found an entirely new side of the unknowable. For a moment I was satisfied. Then my world was turned upside-down. Once again I had answers - I had knowledge that satisfied. Then I was in my thirties and struggled with new questions and again raced after answers. And once again I found them in an entirely different place from where I was. And I was once again content with answers, then the new questions came again. Once again, I listened for answers. I found myself in a new place. 

There are answers that satisfy, but yield nothing. There are so many constructs that show us a glimpse of the eternal, but when you drink them they are half-empty glasses. So many ladders to climb that give us a view - but the view is only a window that gives us a glimpse of a world we can't begin to measure. So slowly I realized that knowledge is only a temporary construct that gives us a framework to work within - a ladder to climb so we can get a view. The point is, to get a view we have to climb the ladder. We have to buy the ladder, climb it and look. We have to take the construct, work through it, test it, find it valid or invalid, and move on. We search for knowledge of the unknowable, but we gain wisdom. 

The microcosmic. If we can't know the macrocosmic, then maybe we can master the microcosmic. We test and measure and try to find ultimate knowledge. It eludes us. We break the atom into smaller and smaller particles, finding ever more sensitive ways to track the pieces and we only find smaller pieces. And if perhaps we have found the smallest piece, we can quantify it, and fit it into a construct of science, but we still haven't answered the riddle. A construct is only a construct after all. We are never certain that we can know - tomorrow's theory may turn the world upside down and disprove everything we think we know. We must work the theory. So we know... but we don't.

People. Things we can see and measure. Things that are concrete - we are certain that we can know about people. People we can prod with our tools and say they are this big, and can do these things and not those things, and we can monitor their behavior so we can see inside their minds. I thought as a young man that if we could just give people the right knowledge, then all mankind's problems would melt away. Then I met people who didn't want to know things. And I met people who took knowledge and fit it into a different construct and it proved something different to them. 

I had to know more about people. I studied biology and psychology and sociology and anthropology and philosophy and theology. There was so much to know about people. They could be measured and studied and known from so many aspects. Everyone who studied people seem to have a different answer. It was like analyzing sunlight to see if it is particles or waves, and the answer is yes. I learned about attitude, about knowledge and feelings and how emotions are more controlling. I learned to work with people and assist attitude change. 

Eventually with all this knowledge I formed a workable construct about people. So I worked the construct. I tested and it seemed to hold. But then came the exceptions to the theory. Why is it, when you give people just the right knowledge, they don't resolve their problems? Broken habits return to rule again. Ill will resurfaces. Old fears return to haunt people. People can know exactly what their problem is, but never conquer it? Were the problems not properly identified and addressed? The construct fell. Once again I had satisfying answers that failed the ultimate tests. I could understand the core drives and values within a person, and understand what motivated them, and have the very best knowledge, but I could not give it to that person and make him well. Not even people close to me. I was devastated.

And now I know that each person must work through his own construct. For a while, life is about certain things. Then people accept those experiences into themselves. They integrate experience and their personality becomes different. When people are finished experiencing those things, they move on. They test their construct of what life is about, reject it, and try another. God and ultimate knowledge probably has not changed, but we do, and our perceptions of the ultimate change. Well, after realizing I don't know anything, maybe now I do know something - maybe something that can help others in some small way. 

I don't think we normally fabricate these constructs about how the world is. We don't try one then another until we find one that suits us. We just begin to see things differently. 

We have to work the construct (or work within the construct) or we learn nothing. We can be aloof and pretend that what we believe about life is superficial, or that what others believe is superficial. For example, we can believe that God is love, but never bother to love, and believe that people feel anger, but never bother to experience the things in our lives that make us angry (I've done both of these in my early twenties). But until we experience, we are nothing more than a framework, meaning nothing - Personalizing nothing, experiencing nothing, not growing - wisdom alludes us until we join in.

We chase knowledge, but knowledge is a vapor trail in a fog. We don't know where knowledge came from, or where it's leading us. We really don't know a thing, but we are becoming. 

Story ideas

¤ ! Comedy. A thirty year old psychiatrist, Charles, begins practice with an established clinic. He earned high honors academically and as a psychonalytic and medical practitioner. Within weeks of joining the clinic, he realizes he is completely unmotivated. He can't bring himself to open up to his peers about this, so he continues to work. At the end of a month, during a session with a client he realizes he has not been listening and he doesn't even want to listen. He walks out of the session and turns in his resignation to the clinic director, saying, "This isn't for me." When asked what is for him, he doesn't know. 

Charles is now "on the couch." He begins relating to the director his frustration with several of his cases. To him they aren't real problems because they are based on false constructs of reality. But when he suggests to these people a different way of looking at things, they refuse to even consider it. "So what is the problem," the Director asks. As a psychoanalyst you accept people where they are and try to help them get where they want to go. It isn't his job to give people an ultimate picture of reality - as if there was one. At this he becomes furious. Things are so plain to him - reality is so obvious.... 

The Director raises an eyebrow. "Is it?" So Charles rushes headlong into a critique of each of his clients and the things that are so obvious that they refuse to see. If they would just see this game they are playing, they could get on with their lives. Then Charles suggests that possibly they are having too much fun playing their little games. Again his peer raises an eyebrow. "Howso?" And after a long discussion it comes to light that Charles has nothing in his life that is fun. Fun? Nothing has any meaning. Why? Because everthing is so transparent - it all seems like a game to him. He can't enter in. 

The Director writes him a prescription: "Live for the next three weeks with each of his clients. Become them." To save his job? Ridiculous! No, to save himself. "But one is a prostitute, and one is a religious nut - he hears voices." The Director takes the keys to Charles' apartment. So he moves in with Steven. 

Steven is a father who has lost control of his three children. They don't like Steven, they have no respect for him, and they don't like being with him. They refuse to obey him in any way. But Steven doesn't see himself as the nurturing type, and doesn't care. His wife, their mother, is living with her mother while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, and she is too weak and sick to do anything. This crisis is making all the weaknesses in the family come out. Because one of the children is a diabetic, and she refuses to take her medication, the emergency room informed child services who referred them to the clinic under the threat of legal action. Charles refuses to be a structuralist, so recommends that they negotiate things. The children simply won't have things any way but the way they want them. The result is total chaos. Charles can't make Steven care about his children, and he can't make the children like or mind Steven. He can talk forever about the way things "ought to be," but he has to address the way things are. At the first family din, (not dinner, din - the time of total noise and chaos when every child is demanding their way) he bolts and moves in with Mark. 

Mark, is a sixty-four year old religious fanatic who believes deeply that he is the voice of God and his message is, "The millenium is coming." Everything that happens in Mark's life, Mark manages to interpret to be a sign from God. Mark was actually asked to leave his previous church. He was accused of having an affair with a twenty-six year old single mother whom he was counseling. In truth, he liked her and paid too much attention to her in public. His wife saw it, and believed the accusation. Both Mark and the woman denied it, but both his wife and the Church left him. 

Mark dwells in the past - that time of what he exagerates as "his glorious ministry." All this misery has happened to him for a reason. "He was so effective and didn't fall to temptation, so he has now been set apart for a special ministry." Charles thinks he has been so hurt by this that he is just coping by rationalizing. The voices are his imagination, and the longer he denies his pain the worse it is going to get - neurosis will only become more complicated. He can't resolve the past - he has to accept it and move on. Deal with it and find a new life. Perhaps another church will accept him. But after a week with Mark, he is trying to interpret what Mark sees and hears, and he is not sure if Mark is correct or not. Maybe he is God's voice. His message is harmless. Is Charles attacking the means God used to select Mark? Or does Mark really have a problem, or both? Charles has entered in. He fearfully removes himself from the situation. 

Mark askes where he will go. Charles replies he can't move in with Trudy - she's a prostitute. Mark offers him a bucket of stones to throw at her - that is if Charles has no sins himself. Charles dismisses Mark's comment and moves back in with Steven with a new determination. 

He attempts to bring harmony to the Steven household. He tries to get them to communicate, and to see reason. Steven replies that he is gone until late at night and he can't quit his job to raise kids - he can't even lose a paycheck - not even a commission - or they will all end up homeless. His peers think he should pick up a paddle and lay down the law. He want's Charles' support in this. The children want what they want and will not see their father's point of view. They are supported in this by the school system, TV, and social workers who are all giving them the message that they are suffering because their father doesn't spend time with them. And the only solution is for their father to spend time with them. They want Charles' support in this. Neither side is willing to budge an inch. The din begins again with Charles at the center. Charles moves in with Trudy. 

Trudy is a nineteen-year-old prostitute with a possible manic-depressive psychosis, who has been placed with the clinic by the courts. Charles doubts the manic-depressive diagnosis, thinking it's a court convenience or the result of drugs and starvation, but he tries to adjust her medication. He tries to get her to look for a job. She argues, "It's hard to stay awake for job interviews when you've been doing tricks all night. And they do this drug screening thing." Charles tries to find her the clothes to wear for a job and tries to keep her off drugs and alcohol. It's a difficult fight - she has both drugs and alcohol hidden in every room. 

They talk. Charles talks her backward into her past. She became a prostitute because it was the only job she could hold for any length of time. She left home because she couldn't stand her step-mother, and she argued with her father all the time. It was a very unhappy home and the only way it could be fixed is if she left. So she did. Her mother left home when she was ten - she was an alcoholic and it was wrecking all their lives, and she had been dried out and treated twice and was an Alcoholics Anonymous regular, but she couldn't stay off the stuff - it numbed the pain and life was just too hard. So she left, at her husband's urging, instead of dragging them all down. Now Trudy doesn't trust any relationship - "Something will always come along and mess it up." But Charles suspects the problem is even deeper. Trudy doesn't feel lovable. She probably won't until she has been loved and accepts that she is. All he can really do is be there and reassure her, and hope life brings the right experiences.

Charles asks her if she wants to completely crash, or does she want to turn herself around now. "Crash and burn," she replies dryly. He sees she is too far gone to rescue herself - she requires intervention or she will reach bottom, and it might be fatal. She heads for the street. He follows, trying to prevent her from working another night. He finds himself on the street with her, first to protect her from herself, then trying to keep the bad customers away. He has entered in. He cares. He is trapped. He knows the journey out for Trudy will be a long struggle and he can't continue doing illegal activity. Before the night is over, they are both arrested. 

The Director bails Charles out. When Charles comes out, the Director raises one eye. 

"I couldn't help it!" Charles responds. "I was trying to protect her!" 

"Whatever happened to professional distance and objectivity?" the Director asks.

"I was living with her! What did you want me to do, sit there with a detached stare and observe while she serviced some pig? What if he started hitting her?" 

"I thought you said she was enjoying this little game of hiding from reality. Your reality." 

"It isn't a game! There's a gaping hole in her life where a mother and a family relationship should be, and the hole is filled with pain. She's going to be three years in psychotherapy. She has to come to grips with that pain and somehow find the courage to begin living again. She isn't going anywhere but down until someone... "

"So, Doctor, how are you going to stop her hiding from reality game? Offer her a new interpretation, or tell her to just deal with it, or are you going to be the knight in shining armor who rescues her?"

"You know I can't get involved, " Charles seethes. "Give her case to another therapist. And give me back my apartment keys!"

"No, you haven't finished with Steven," the Director refuses. Charles stomps off, angrily muttering to himself. But then goes back to the window and asks about bail for Trudy.

Trudy, in a jail cell by herself, is much more sober now. A jailer unlocks the door and beckons for Trudy to come out. Me? she asks silently. The jailer nods. "You're free to go." Trudy points to herself in disbelief. The jailer nods. "Somebody made bail for you, honey. Somebody must care." Trudy takes a couple of steps toward freedom, then stops and begins to cry. In a moment she is a puddle on the floor, wailing for all she is worth. The jailer waits for a moment, then goes to her and tries to help her up. She is a rag doll, impossible to move. Finally the jailer sits beside her and holds her.

Once again Charles is confronted with the family din, and children crying, "Make Daddy do this, make Daddy do that." He retreats to his make-shift room in the basement. He is defeated. In frustration, he throws his medical bag into a dark corner and throws a psychoanalytic text he has been reading under the bed. The upstairs doorbell rings, but he is oblivious to it. Unknown to him, the youngest girl, the one with diabetes, is watching from atop the stairs. He collapses on the bed. The little girl goes to him and takes his hand. She sits beside him. "Do you believe in God?" she asks. The prostitute is now at the top of the stairs. She stops and listens.

"Of course," he replies. 

The oldest boy also comes silently down the stairs and comes and sits on his bed. "Then why did he let this happen to my Mom?" he asks. 

"I don't know why God lets anything happen. Maybe he doesn't - maybe that's just what we chose to believe. We believe what we want to."

What do you believe, they ask? "I believed I could make people well. But I can't. People just see what they want to see, and they stay sick. There was this woman, a pros... well, a not very nice woman. And she puts herself in danger every day doing things that are... sick. And that's her... life. I can't make her well. She comes out of a home where she couldn't get along with her parents."

"Were they bad parents like my Daddy?" the little girl demands to know. 

"Your Daddy isn't bad. He loves you in the way he can. He doesn't know how to be a mommy and a playful daddy."

"I hate him. Why didn't God give me a Daddy that could be everything I need?"

"I don't know. But you have to go with what you have - "

The prostitute enters, followed by Steven. She is dressed nicely, is partially withdrawn, and is trying to stay in control her drug induced state. "And be thankful for your Daddy. I hated my Daddy, too. He married a woman I didn't like. And he was a hard man and he asked too much of me. And we argued all the time. So I ran away. And now I do things that aren't very nice, and I put myself in danger every day. And no one cares about me anymore. But your Daddy cares about you. And he will do the things for you that he can."

The children are moved. "You want to fix things with your Daddy?" Trudy asks. The children nod yes. "Then you go to him and you ask him to be your Daddy just the way he is. And you give him the power to be your Daddy. Because if you don't want him as your Daddy, then not even God can make it real. Only you can do that."

The little girl solemnly goes to her father, then suddenly kicks him in the shin. She laughs, delighted with herself. Then she suddenly bursts into tears and hugs her father's leg. Steven picks her up and hugs her.

Charles and the prostitute slip away to another room as the family reconciles. "What is this?" Charles asks.

Trudy looks at him as if she actually likes him now. She says softly, "I thought about you being in that other jail cell on account of me... on account of trying to protect me - "

"It's just transferrence." Charles interrupts. It doesn't mean anything."

"It meant you cared enough about me to risk going to jail." Trudy waits, but Charles doesn't reply.

"What else could I do?" Charles finally asks. 

Trudy swings her purse at him. "Damn you! Can't you admit you're human. Can't you admit to having feelings? Can't you admit to caring about what happens to someone. Do you have a stainless steel heart?"

Charles winces and hangs his head. "All right. So I care about what happens to you. But I'm not in love with you."

"Do you have to be in love with someone to care about them?" Trudy questions pointedly. Charles absorbs this and Trudy cools off. "No one has cared for a long time. Maybe if you keep talking to me, I can maybe find a job and start... turning things around. You think I like being what I am?" 

Fade to Charles and the Director talking to each other. Charles is saying, "... and it's working out. The children, unknown to them, spontaneously adopted this construct in which Steven is their father and they are the children, just as they are. No structuring, no negotiating, no therapy sessions, no outside agendas - just permission to be what they are. They just needed that construct to work within, and it took a prostitute to give it to them. Fascinating. 

"And how about you? Are you having fun, yet?" 

"Yes, I know a little more about myself and what I believe. I believe I have a job to do. But that seems less important now. I've decided to do more of my work with my clients where they are instead of where I am. It's frustrating and "unprofessional," but much more fun." 

"And effective," the Director added with a smile.

* Ideas can't be copyrighted, but if you use a fully developed idea from these pages it is customary to give credit - you won't get sued if you don't, or charged if you do. Fully developed ideas are marked with a !. Credit for an idea is usually in the form: From an idea by (name). This page is copyrighted - that means you can't copy the text from this page and post it anonymously or give authoring credit to another person. 

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