Donald Rumsfeld, February 12, 2002: “As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Remember Donald Rumsfeld? Defense Secretary in the years of Bush the Younger? Those words quoted above are – no doubt – the most well-known three sentences he ever uttered. I remember the statement being derided at the time for being nonsensical, but doesn’t it make a certain amount of sense in the age of coronavirus? We are living with both “known unknowns” as well as “unknown unknowns”.
We’re having class meetings and virtual meetings that can be frustrating and bumpy because of connectivity issues, people talking over each other, lag time between comments, feedback in the audio, and general awkwardness. But – they are also fodder for short comedic bits. Thank goodness for our ability to laugh in times of trouble.
We’re working longer hours than ever, and work and home have blurred together. We’re feeling disconnected, but I also find myself talking on the phone (yes, an actual phone call) much more frequently than I did two months ago – so in some ways I’m still very much connected to colleagues and friends.
I came to my office today – for the first time in weeks. I couldn’t remember the password to log onto my computer (that’s how long it’s been). I totally blanked for a good 60 seconds before I finally had an inspiration that proved correct. When I walked into my office, I noticed how neat it looked. Why? Because I haven’t been here in weeks (so all my piles of paperwork are at home). My office was both familiar and yet unfamiliar. And of course very folks are in the building, so the atmosphere is different.
I don’t know about you, but I miss chatting. I miss walking over to someone’s office to ask a question. I miss commiserating about the weather or the thermostat in the building or the traffic. I miss running into folks whom I don’t see regularly. I miss the predictability of my work day (well, okay, my work days were never predictable in terms of content or rhythm – but in general I knew that my work occurred mostly in my office from 8:30 to 6:30 five days a week).
I know we all feel this – we miss our “known knowns”, so to speak. But in the age of coronavirus, we are learning to adjust to known unknowns, as well as unknown unknowns.
So from me to you – hang in there. Thanks for coping. Thanks for your good cheer and your vigilant focus on student success. Thanks for being ever-faithful to our mission. Thanks for the long hours and for pushing through the awkwardness and for moving forward. It is all noticed, applauded, and appreciated.
Blessings on you.