The fascinating part of playing Scrabble or its knock-off Words with Friends (which, for the record, is one of the dumbest names I’ve heard in my life for a game), is that it stretches you. It stretches you linguistically, of course. But it also stretches you emotionally. For example, take the situation in which a friend puts down a word as ridiculous as “Moxa” or “Qat”, and after angry googling it, you have to admit that yes, obscure plant names are acceptable words.

Then come words like ‘Egress’ doesn’t tend to come up in conversation but you’re 94% sure it’s a real word (here’s a link to the definition in case you’ve forgotten it). Or something like, “Moraie” which definitely isn’t a word, but it feels like it could be. For those putting it down, it feels like it should be.

Yet, that’s the tricky part. A game like scrabble pushes you. We all like to think of ourselves as at least reasonably knowledgeable. Yet, staring down at, A, E, A, A, I, O, and M, words seem to disappear. I tend to go the wild luck route, where you physically move the tiles around in a blind hope that a 27-point word will magically pop out.

But what I want to talk about is how you feel when that magic word doesn’t pop out. I want to talk about that moment when you realize, “Oh, I don’t know as much as I thought I did”.

Because it does hurt, in some strange way. It can feel demeaning because, sure, you can drop words like, “pecuniary” and “hamartia“, on the occasion, but those particular words don’t help you at this moment. For all of your expertise, you can’t fulfill the goal you’re striving for, and end up putting, “so” down.

Sometimes situations with a larger impact than a single scrabble game give us that same moment of reflection. You feel like you know everything around it, but you can’t fully grasp it, the thing people are expecting of you. Someone asks a good question, and you want to be able to respond. But you can’t, because you don’t know the answer.

When we can, we should do as much research as we can. We should ask around for advice before making big decisions. We should get as much of an idea about a thing before jumping into the midst of it. But in some instances, there’s just so much we can’t understand until we do it for ourselves. Take picking what college to go to. College is an incredibly, ridiculously expensive investment, and the experience for each student can vary widely. The programs, classes, professors, extracurriculars, transportation, lifestyle, atmosphere, and student/school fit, all of these and more are factors in a decision like that.

Furthermore, college is a new mandated norm– what about those who 1. can’t afford college and/or 2. aren’t fit for the academically-minded track?

The more we look at decisions, the more complicated the situation tends to get. Research can help supplement, but there is too much to boil down and be able to quantify. The decisions we make can feel like Scrabble with too many vowels. Sometimes we really do end up mixing things together and hoping the right answer to peak out at us. There doesn’t seem to be anything else we can do in those situations.

But here is also where we can be comforted. Everyone struggles. Not knowing is part of being human. We do what we can, and “what we can” isn’t always the height of brilliance. Sometimes we guess and try things out until it works. That’s not an idiotic strategy, because, with decisions under ignorance, we are limited in what we know. We make educated guesses where we can. We have to try something out to learn from it.

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