couple of Saturdays ago, I had my mind set on watching the live football – ahem, soccer – streaming from the English Premier League. Thank you, US sports channels and your endless array of programming.
Alas, my youngest daughter had a firm grip on the scheduling that morning, and her choice was to watch Dumbo on Netflix. So Netflix it was. We sat together with our blanket on the sofa, cozy as can be. The film began and, as usual, so did the questions.
“What is that stork carrying?”
“Why is the man angry with the mommy elephant?”
And most important, “When will the elephant fly?”
This last question grew more emphatic with every asking. Eventually, my daughter put both her hands out in exasperation and loudly spoke each word with a slow pace that gave away her impatience.
“When. Will. The. Elephant. Fly?”
She wanted certainty, and it was frustrating that it wouldn’t come as quickly as she wished.
In the same way, many of us want certainty, and the solutions we suggest often are phrased in the form of certainty in action.
Build a boundary.
Do something – anything – that will bring certainty to the result.
I cope well without certainty on many things in my life. “Who knows?” does not generally disturb me. I’m happy to live with ambiguity on what will happen next.
In the face of an uncertain world, though, I do like clarity on the question of How should I be? I like the perspective of Paul Farmer, a physician known for his humanitarian work providing healthcare to rural and under-resourced areas, particularly in Haiti.
“For me an area of moral clarity is: You are in front of someone who is suffering and you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate that suffering or even eradicate it, and you act.”
You have the tools, and you act. I like that idea.
Certainty comes from the conviction that something is the case—perfect knowledge. That’s a nice thought, but not often attainable, I’m afraid.
Clarity, on the other hand, implies lucidity even when ambiguity is the best we can get. I’m not certain, for instance, how healthcare law will unfold, but I am clear that people need and benefit from high-quality health services, and we have the tools to act. That’s moral clarity.
Similarly, I’m not certain how the economic situation will unfold in the future, but I do know so many people live in poverty. The effects are profound, and we have the tools to act.
And so we will act.
Jesus said the poor will always be with us. Jesus didn’t say, however, that we should always be able to predict where they come from with certainty. That’s where moral clarity comes in: as long as we have the desire and the tools to disrupt poverty, we will make a difference.
We’ll see that elephant fly.