Known Unknowns

It’s the not knowing that’s the worst part of all of this.

There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.’

Donald Rumsfeld (US Secretary of State for Defence at the time) said this back in 2002.

I think once we know what we’re up against, we can work out how to cope with it. But not knowing is hard to deal with. How can we decide what to worry about if we don’t know what we’re up against? We end up just worrying about everything.

So – what are our known knowns? We know it’s serious, we know it’s spread by droplets, we know we have no immunity to it.

And of course there are the known unknowns – we know that we don’t know when things will be back to normal, we know that we don’t know if we’ll catch it or how it will affect us if we do.

But it’s the unknown unknowns that are hardest to cope with – we don’t know what we don’t know, but that doesn’t stop us worrying about it.

I find out on Monday whether or not I will be furloughed (that’s a known unknown!). I work for a major DIY chain in the UK. I’m a kitchen designer really, but for at least two weeks now we’ve all just been working stock and processing Click and Collect orders. Customers come to the store to collect their orders, and we take the items out to them in their cars. Because we sell things that people need in order to keep their homes safe and secure, we’re classed as key workers.

I have mixed feelings about the possibility of being furloughed. They asked us what our preferences would be – and I think on balance I would prefer to carry on working.

For one thing, I have no ties – I can work any hours on any days, I have no children to look after. It seems reasonable for me to do the work when others can’t. For another thing, it gives me at least six hours a day when I don’t have time to think about anything too deeply (all those unknown unknowns), and in the current circumstances that’s no bad thing. And also, as the work is now so physically demanding (those 25kg bags of plaster won’t lift themselves…) I find I’m generally sleeping much better than previously. And continuing to earn full pay with the possibility of overtime also has its advantages.

But – I can see the advantages of being furloughed, even if it’s only on 80% pay. No longer running the risk of being with other people who may pass it on to me. Shut away in my own home I might even be able to convince myself that it’s OK really. I’d be able to get on with a few things that I need to do and a few things that I’d like to do. I have to admit I’ve got a certain amount of Lockdown Envy. I certainly don’t have time to paint the house, or learn to draw, or convert the garage to a gym at the moment!!

I think I’m at the stage now of just wanting to know one way or the other – will I be furloughed or not? Once I know what I’m doing, I’ll be able to deal with it (it’ll be a known known).

Have you noticed that the more often you read the word ‘known’ the weirder it looks?? No? Just me??

How are you coping with all the unknowns in your life at the moment?

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Photo by Pedro Figueras from Pexels

5 Comments Add yours

  1. anglosvizzera says:

    I no longer worry about unknown unknowns, if I ever did. I read a post today on Facebook about not feeling guilty if you’re not using your ‘furlough’ time learning Japanese or converting the loft. It’s also ok to just ‘do nothing’, chill out and learn to enjoy the silence. It is noticeably quiet where we live, even with the children off school which seems odd. Are they all actually indoors? As far as I’m aware, you’re allowed out into your own garden, aren’t you? In fact, getting a dose of ‘vitamin/hormone’ D would do everyone the power of good, immune-wise.

    I can see your dilemma – at least you won’t have to make the choice yourself in the end. Part of me feels that I’d like to get it over with. My OH and I are doing what we can to optimise our immune systems, taking the recommended micronutrients, getting enough sleep, having a good laugh (excellent immune-booster) and the minimally-allowed exercise. So hopefully when we do become infected, we’ll brush it off. Neither of us has had more than one cold in the past 10 years since we met, and I’ve only ever had what I assume was ‘flu’ once in my life.

    What will be, will be – so I hope whatever happens for you it’ll be for the best, one way or another.

    Take care! x


  2. Sounds like a plan but.- serious question – can boosting your immunity really help with a virus that no-one has immunity to? Or does it just mean the being generally healthier you don’t suffer as much when you do catch it?


  3. Astrid says:

    The things that I don’t know about this COVID-19 thing are definitely worrying me. I mean, I’m enjoying my time at home as much as I can, but I sitll worry about when this will all be over, what will happen to the economy, to healthcare (I live in a care facility), etc.? I don’t even worry about the relatively nearby known unknowns such as whether I’ll catch the virus and what it will do to me.

    As for your work situation, I understand there are advantages and disadvantages to both situations. I hope you cope well regardless.

    By the way, yo’re not the only one who finds “known” looks weirder the more often you write it.


    1. It is all very bothersome, isn’t it? I’m trying really hard to focus on the ‘knowns’ – and not looking too far ahead. One bridge at a time!!!
      Take every care, and stay safe. xx

      Liked by 1 person

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