Tolerant to ambiguity?

In a certain sense, I am not – I can’t stand vague talk, especially if I suspect it as a burka for hypocrisy.  Not that I am not burka-ed at times – but when awareness thereof overcomes me, I feel like an idiot.  Idiot, by the way, is a Greek word for “someone who can’t productively participate in the life of society.”

This post is related to the previous one (on allergies and intolerance).  It is also relevant to the study of anything, because according to pundits, only open-minded people can learn.

As usual, and in spite of Patti Robertson’s reservations (hi, Patti), I start with Wikipedia:

Ambiguity tolerance is the ability to perceive ambiguity in information and behavior in a neutral and open way.

What else can you do if you are in the jungle?  It will be suicidal to react to the cheetah before you consider alternative possibilities.  Right or flight?

Ambiguity tolerance is an important issue in personality development and education. In psychology and in management, levels of tolerance of ambiguity are correlated with creativity,[1] risk aversion, psychological resilience, lifestyle,[2] orientation towards diversity (cross-cultural communication, intercultural competence), and leadership style.[3]

This is vague and incomplete, and sounds fragmented to me.  I should do what I always do when frustrated – go and learn more about it.  Read on:

Wilkinson’s Modes of Leadership is largely based on ambiguity tolerance. Mode one leaders have the least tolerance to ambiguity with mode four leaders enjoying and preferring to work in ambiguous situations. In part this is due to what Wilkinson calls ’emotional resilience’.

Long live the weed!  (Do you notice how Wilkinson exploits people’s desire to be leaders?  You think he means any leaders, or just the recognizable type?  Does he consider how the poor totalitarians might feel when they read this?  Plus, not everyone can be the brain – what about the anus??)

The converse, ambiguity intolerance,[4][5] which was introduced in The Authoritarian Personality in 1950,[6] was defined in 1975 as a “tendency to perceive or interpret information marked by vague, incomplete, fragmented, multiple, probable, unstructured, uncertain, inconsistent, contrary, contradictory, or unclear meanings as actual or potential sources of psychological discomfort or threat.”

I must be a totalitarian – I always ask people to elaborate on their vague, incomplete, fragmented, multiple, probable, unstructured, uncertain, inconsistent, contrary, contradictory, or unclear utterings.


6 thoughts on “Tolerant to ambiguity?

    1. So – how do you deal with people like this? I disengage, which may not be the right way, but I don’t know any other yet.

      Church goers are an easy target. The behavior and attitudes in the video however are not limited to church goers. “If you don’t think and act like us, you are a monster to be banished.”

      Sometimes shunning takes very civilized forms. It’s the symptom of ambiguity intolerance – and of fear. I know people who dismiss the Socratic method, because they see questions as problems to be eliminated, not entertained. I’ve also seen some adherents to the Socratic method go balistic if somebody questions their modus of practicing it. Why is that?

  1. Btw, if you want to learn another language, you must be rather comfortable with ambiguity. The word “smart,” for instance, has several meanings (plus English speakers use it both as an adjective and a verb), so it will be naturally analyzed and represented as several words in another language. If you expect word-for-word translation into another tongue, you are in a predicament.

  2. cf. John Keats letter to his brother on ‘negative capability’, the ability and possible, or should I say ambiguous, requirement of poets to put up with what is unresolved and to avoid resolving anything too soon….;

    1. Yes, and for Wikipedia junkies, here’s the link. I must say though – if negative capability is the norm, many may want to defy it, and there will also always be those who adhere to it blindly.

    2. Let it be known, btw, that I have challenged Mike Riley to a skirt steak competition. I am the master of skirt steaks and am capable of transforming them into a variety of dishes, ice cream included. But since I don’t like ice cream, we’ll stick to the meat variety.

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