None of us knows what will happen in the future. I’m not saying this as some sort of deep thought, it’s just reality. Every year, each of us passes the day we will someday shuffle off this mortal coil…and we don’t know what that date is! Crazy, right?
That said, even if nothing is certain, all of life is about the odds. Most likely, most people reading this will be around a year from now. Even if things aren’t 100 percent certain, we have to make decisions given the most likely reality.
This is why I get frustrated when the idea that “the future is unknowable” is then presented as an argument about the futility of attempting to plan the future, with the idea that planning the future is somehow incompatible with enjoying the present. These statements can both be true:
- The future is unknowable
- Many desires about the future are unlikely to happen randomly, so making them happen requires making assumptions that at least the near future will happen, and that its contours will be broadly similar to the present.
I was thinking of this recently because I encountered another one of those masquerading-as-a-deep-thought statements that “all we have is this moment”…right as I started getting all the messages from various local organizations about signing up for summer camp.
Now, I am well aware that the future doesn’t always go as we expect. I signed a lot of kids up for a lot of camps in early 2020, and we all saw how that went.
On the other hand, a lot of the really cool camps sell out fast. If my five kids want to get their first choices of summer fun — choices that won’t conflict with our vacation schedule, and that keep them busy during the day so I can focus — someone needs to be on it. In our family, that someone is me.
I suspect that in a lot of families, that someone is Mom. Which leads me to my second frustration with the “the future is unknowable! We should just enjoy this moment!” argument. There is such a thing as “planning privilege,” as my illustrious co-host puts it. You can perhaps sound deeply philosophical, claiming that the future is unknowable, if you know that, come what will, you will not be the party in your family responsible for taking care of the kids all summer if the ball gets dropped on camp sign-ups. Maybe the future is unknowable, but you’re still assuming that in the future someone else is running your personal life.
So, yes, the future is unknowable in that there could be another pandemic. My community could experience some disaster that primarily targets summer camps. Anything could happen to my family (including the lesser disaster of my kids changing their minds about their interests by summer). Civilization could fall apart. All of these things could potentially unfold. As one of my kids’ books puts it “That’s a possibility!”
But the book also distinguishes between things that are possible (drawing the one green gum ball out of a gum ball machine with two hundred red gum balls) and things that are likely. The most likely course of events is that the near future will be broadly similar to the present. There will be camps, and my kids will want to go. It’s wise to make back up plans (one reason we have a full time nanny even with all the kids in school). But it’s also wise to make plans for the future based on the most likely outcome. Which is why you’ll find me making my camp spreadsheet* over the next few weeks…
*Yes, it’s a spreadsheet! I put the kids’ names along the top, and then the weeks of summer down the left hand side. It helps me see, visually, who’s going where when and whose summer has the right mix of stuff and who needs more going on.