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Upon reflection, I recognize that ritual occupies much of what I emphatically refer to my as 'my life'. Rituals don't quite qualify as habits because they hardly achieve the mindless replicability of the habitual. They seem more mindful, somehow. They might have once been a choice, even an aspired-to skill, but over time, they evolved into something approaching the One Best Way, and from there began to consume portions of my free will.

I will not negotiate away the best of these. I will meditate for twenty minutes every morning and every afternoon, no way or will could talk me out of this ritual. My morning ablutions, probably like yours, most resemble an elaborate ritual, performed in pretty much the same order every day. From mowing the lawn to preparing supper, I draw from a deep well of imbedded ritual to complete the task.

I figure about half of what I've so mindfully imbedded into my rituals probably amounts to some sort of myth about how something's supposed to be accomplished. I learn only begrudgingly now, having reinforced my performances through a wide-variety of circumstances. When my dear friend showed me a better way to wield that chef's knife, I first deflected the instruction before considering it for inclusion into my vast-ish repertoire. You might characterize my response as defensive, though I might paraphrase Barry Goldwater and reply that extremism in defense of the illusion of liberty is no vice.

I figure I'm overall about 50% clueless. You probably are, too, but I mean no criticism by suggesting this. I'm merely making the implicit a bit more explicit. The rub, as Shakespeare might declare, comes with the suggestion that while I might confidently declare that I'm half-clueless, I cannot with any reliability identify which half qualifies as clueless and which half does not. I can somewhat reliably cherry-pick individual items imbedded in your rituals that clearly count as clueless. I'm less reliable identifying my own.

This seems the most human of failings, if cluelessness counts as a failing. I'm more attracted to the notion that my cluelessness better qualifies as a blessing, albeit in considerable disguise. Even my defensive responses to others' attempts to clue me in probably qualify as blessings. The resulting tumultuous dance seems the very stuff comprising life. We may not strut around confident in our clued-in-edness, for that stance seems the very soul of cluelessness.

I refine on the go, never knowing for sure what might survive into the longer term. I cobble together, drawing naive conclusions until I begrudgingly learn better, though I only rarely ever do. I will certainly die with most of my cluelessnesses intact, leaving a whopping mystery behind.

Almost every systems theorist has recounted the apocryphal tale of great-grandma's ham. It seems that the granddaughter hosted a Thanksgiving dinner where she, by long tradition, served ham. In preparing the meal, she began by cutting about six inches off the tail end of the thing. Her young daughter asked her why she excised that end, to which she replied that she wasn't sure, it was how her mom always prepared to bake a ham. The granddaughter proceeded to ask grandma why, to which she replied that she wasn't sure. "Go ask great-grandma." She did, to learn that great grandma trimmed off the end of her hams because she lacked a larger roasting pan. What started as a contextually reasonable adaptation metastasized into a trans-generational ritual. Little harm resulted.

I hesitate to vilify my cluelessnesses for exactly this reason. I find them reassuring and they do little harm. I can comfortably maintain the firm belief that the moon is made of green cheese without in any way undermining the forward progress of human civilization or irreparably sullying my soul. I might find others' ritualized cluelessnesses equally endearing. Their wrongness matters less than little, usually.

I intend no screed against clued-in-edness here, though. I believe that knowledge amounts to a great and wonderful human capacity, though not necessarily the sole superior one. Nobody ever knows what they don't know they don't know. This acknowledgement might force a certain generosity between us, charity and understanding rather than epistemological wars. My cluelessnesses might serve as useful information about me to you, as yours certainly serve to be for me, but not if either of us wallow in the sometimes glaring wrongfulness of what we observe. Should either of us choose to clue in the other, we might reasonably expect some push back, maybe emphatic shove back, because our rituals have already figured out that story, seamlessly filling in most of the surface imperfections. Your clue encounters a well-tended wall. Expect your clue to bounce back in your face.

I argue here against the dichotomy. We might confidently throw stones at anyone not capable of throwing stones back at us. Not one of us knows better enough to assault the obviously clueless. I believe we might have caught onto this 'fact' by now. The eternal war against cluelessness has gained us little. Perhaps we need a different response than failing to vanquish. Perhaps.

©2017 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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