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I had several variations on this conversation on Monday.

Anon: Are we closing after spring break?

Me: We don’t plan to at this point.

Anon: So we won’t close after spring break?

Me: We don’t know yet. It depends on what happens with the coronavirus.

Anon: Wait, I’m confused. First you said we weren’t closing, then you said we were.

Me: No, I said we don’t have any plans to, but that might change.

Anon: So are we closing?


The careful reader will notice in the exchange above that I was being transparent, but my frustrated interlocutor was looking for certainty. They were convinced that the question had a yes or no answer and I was dancing around it. In fact, at this point, the only honest answer is “I don’t know; it depends.” That’s truthful, but not satisfying.

Transparency and certainty are not the same thing. Certainty describes an answer on which you can rely, or at least, on which you feel like you can rely. Certainty can be factually incorrect, whether by lying or by misunderstanding. (Anyone who has had little kids around the house knows that certainty and accuracy are not the same thing.) Transparency describes a clear portrait, without deception, of what someone is doing or going to do.

I’m increasingly convinced that when some folks say they want transparency, what they actually mean is that they want certainty. The difference matters when the truth is ambiguous or unknowable.

Truth is like water. Still water is transparent. Running water isn’t. Right now, we’re in the rapids; the water itself may be transparent, but it’s rushing so fast that it’s hard to see what’s next. Will warm weather hit before the virus explodes, or will the virus explode before warm weather hits? I don’t know.

In the absence of certainty, rumors flourish. Admittedly, some of them are fun; I liked the observation on Twitter that ever since Ted Cruz self-quarantined, there haven’t been any more Zodiac murders. It’s technically true, though perhaps a bit misleading.

Normally, I like to think of truth and transparency as antidotes to rumors. But when the truth is uncertain, that doesn’t work as well. “Maybe” isn’t a powerful rebuttal. Some people are good at accepting “maybe” as an answer, but some really struggle with it. They want clarity. Some even define clarity rooted in bluffing as leadership. That school of thought has a long history, going back at least as far as Socrates’s “noble lie.” Socrates was no fan of democracy.

I define leadership differently. I define leadership as telling difficult or complicated truths and forging ahead anyway. It shows respect for one’s interlocutor. We’ll make it through this outbreak and do right by our students. What that means for, say, two weeks from Wednesday remains to be seen.

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