Confronting our thinking in general

I want to say that the focus of my life is on teaching the art of inquiry. Yesterday, I said that one of the aims of a good inquiry is to disabuse us of our ignorance. To be humbled in this manner is to enter into a time of exceptional confusion. Can anything interesting be said of this state of confusion?

For starters, the kind of confusion I have in mind needs to be understood in its fullness. It is not the confusion of not knowing whether the train is running on a particular track or on time; whether my friend and I are meeting at the right place or time; whether there are closer to 8 million or 9 million people living in New York City; whether one dinner item should be put into the oven before or after another. Presumably, all these matters, which have to do with getting a state of affairs right or with following the proper sequence in order to arrive at the desired end, could be cleared up by verifying, by confirming, by consulting, or by referring to some authoritative manual. The ‘places we go to look’ in order to alleviate our bewilderment seem ‘on hand’ or ‘nearby’; clarity is a matter of course.

The state of confusion I mean to examine, then, seems to follow from a ‘confrontation with our thinking in its entirety.’ ‘Confronting our thinking’ is a phrase that came up during a conversation I had recently with Dutch education reformer Ed Weijers in reference to the work of the French philosophical practitioner Oscar Brenifier (whose work, admittedly, I’m not familiar with). I would say that this confrontation with my way of thinking in general renders the possibility of my returning to an old way of thinking impossible. I may desire to turn back, may be so tempted, but I have an intimation that that way is no foreclosed.

What now, we ask.

The first moment, a confrontation with our thinking in general, leads us to a second moment, a realization that the old way is foreclosed. The third moment is the leading on to a ‘space of possibilities.’ That is to say, we make the transition from a ‘space of actuality’ concerning how things have to be into a space in which novel possibilities are revealed to us. My life in this organization, not having to head one way anymore, might now head in any number of fruitful (or unfruitful) directions. In this instant, there is exhilaration as well as caution.

The temptation for any person or organization is to think, e.g., that this five-year plan was no good but that some other five-year plan would be more workable. Surely, if not this, then some other, no? At this point in the inquiry, we smile, recognizing that we not need some better five-year plan. Far wiser to have no five-year plan. In doing so, we welcome a time of life when exploring possibilities becomes vital, joyful, giddy.

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