You Just Never Know

copyright 2016 by Raunig-Graham

“You never know.” Such a convenient little phrase.  Sometimes embellished, as in,Well, you just never know, do you!” Or, when made to sound more inclusive, “We just never know, do we?”

A phrase especially handy to use when you pick up your morning newspaper and learn, for example,  that your neighbor down the block has been arrested for allegedly siphoning off large sums of money from his place of business, bills that were then hidden in a Bahamian bank account.The act seems incomprehensible.  This is a man you often said hello to when out jogging.  You take a sip of coffee and mutter out loud, “Well you just never know, do you.” Of course you don’t.  How could you? You were taught to automatically think the best of people, not the worst, or cliche number two, to give people the benefit of the doubt. You never know.  A phrase as handy as your embezzler neighbor.

Those three or four little words prove convenient, too, when you surprise yourself and end up teaching English in Istanbul at age 30. Or marrying a vintner and having triplets. Or running for Congress. Or happily living a quiet life. But your mother knew well their  importance when back in your younger life you were lamenting an imagined dull life ahead.  She used them to encourage you. “You never know where life will take you,” she probably said.  Neither of you knew then what magical adventures might embrace you, so she grabbed the common phrase to cover the unimaginable.  It’s a phrase we use to cover our ineptitude, our inability to know everything, or everybody, and it cuts both ways.  It covers the bad, and the good. It sums the situation up for us when we are dumbfounded or stunned into silence, or when we are having trouble trying to sound profound or to be empathetic. Those three or four words make us accessible.

We can’t know everything because life is full of the unexpected.  That’s why we buy insurance.  We know instinctively that we can’t plan for everything that comes our way.  We realize that a measure of prudence might help us to meet some of life’s surprises.

We don’t always know, but sometimes there are clues, which is why I still read a newspaper, and watch the national news, whether on television or on the Internet.  I want to vote responsibly, to avoid what I know to be self-evident, that though all of us are created equal and deserve respect, some are more qualified to handle certain situations than others,  whether it’s to coach a high school basketball team  or to become President in a democracy or to report the news. Training and experience count.

Our English language is full of such convenient expressions.  “Who would have believed,” or, “If anyone had told me I’d end up_____________,” or, “I never would have believed he_____________,” blah, blah, blah.  We use such phrases  because at times life demands expediency. The common phrases also often spring from our mouths because they are egalitarian. We all use them at one time or another because we know we will be understood, and that we won’t have to explain our vulnerability to whatever the conundrum at hand happens to be.

We’ve been hearing a lot of “you just never knows” in this last year, both here in the United States and in many countries around the world, more, I fear in the negative sense than in the encouraging sense of the phrase. We’ve experienced so many major surprises that we’ve become almost shock-proof.

My hope for 2017 is that we will avoid those announcements from politicians, and pundits, and from friends and acquaintances, that tend toward an overuse of superlatives and language intended to incite. (Who would have believed we’d be subjected to “fake news,” but then you just never know.)

Like a lot of people, I prefer the cautionary tale to breaking news, especially breaking news that is advertised in advance. I want details, and insights, into our current, complicated world situation, and I want opinions labeled as such. I’m wary of people who say they they have all the answers.  It takes time to understand complex ideas and approaches to grave problems. Time may not always be on our side, but generally, we have to take the time to get a more solid understanding of a situation. Jumping to conclusions can be catastrophic for the world and in our personal lives.

She checks both directions

Silhouette against grey sky

Chimney sentinel.

     –Judith Raunig-Graham























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