Saturday, July 5, 2014
The Need for Closure
I don’t like loose ends. The need to understand why, how, or what could be done differently, is part of who I am: an impatient person. It may sound paradoxical, but I would rather know for certain that something, which I look forward to, is not going to happen, than to wait around and see if it might still work out. An example comes to mind: several months after I was widowed, I started going out with a man about my age. At first it was somewhat strained and awkward, as the last time I was out on a date was when I was 19 year old. But it didn't take long until we found that we had a lot in common. Then he told me that we needed to talk, that he wasn’t sure whether our relationship was progressing. He had announced it over the phone and then left town for a couple of days. When he came back he was surprised to discover that we were no longer dating. I preferred to interpret his doubts as a sign that it was time to end the relationship To imagine that he had harbored any reservations regarding my personality, which he kept to himself, was unacceptable to me. And to sit quietly and wait for things to take their natural course was obviously not an option. I wonder if the urge to replace ambiguity with certaintly is connected to my need for closure. This need is defined by Kruglanski and Webster in their article “Motivated Closing of the Mind: "Seizing" and "Freezing'” (1996) as "a desire for definite knowledge on some issue," and it "refers to individuals' desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity." Another example: when I wrote my PhD dissertation I enjoyed excellent working relationship with one of my advisors. Then all of a sudden her attitude toward me and my writing changed drmatically, and my chapters became the target of harsh criticism. I didn’t understand what had changed. Because of my "aversion toward ambiguity," I confronted that professor asking for an explanation. She admitted that she felt unsure about my work and worried that it wasn't good enough. I got what I asked for: "a definite knowledge on some issue" but was it closure? For a while this knowledge saitfied me. Then it stopped, and became a source of new ambiguity which, in turn, led to a quest for more answers. Or in other words, what previously seemed like closure--hermetically shut, with time started to unravel. My choice, in both cases was to swiftly get rid of the ambiguity in order to achieve definite results. Kruglanski and Webster argue that "the need for closure has widely ramifying consequences for social-cognitive phenomena" and that "those consequences derive from 2 general tendencies, those of urgency and permanence. The urgency tendency represents an individual's inclination to attain closure as soon as possible” The actions in the two examples stemmed from the "tendency of urgency" within me, I needed to get immediate relief, or in the words of the researchers: " simply could not wait.” But I wonder when, and if, an action, intending to end ambiguity, qualifies as closure, and whether real closure is at all possible. Closure is a ritual which is meant to bring about relief and tranquility following a turmoil, yet it seldom does. Perhaps like in Greek tragedy, closure is the end which, for a short while restores order but underneath we are left with the same stormy and incomprehensible world.