Two nights in a row I was stumped by the sound of birds in the neighborhood. The first was my old friend the Carolina Wren, making a call that sounded different enough that I didn’t believe it was what it turned out to be. The second was a Northern Flicker, which I don’t recall hearing in the 21 years I’ve lived in this house. More likely than not I just hadn’t paid enough attention and they’ve been calling to me in vain for years. Either way, it reminded me once again of what I don’t know.
The more the mind opens up to the world, the more we realize what we don’t know about it. In general I can tell you a thing or two about many things, but I can’t tell you everything about anything, including myself. Subject matter experts, as the name infers, tend to dive deep into specific subject matter. I’m more of an informed generalist myself, seeking to learn and understand many things and being proficient enough to fill in the blanks with the help of those who know the way.
People who demonstrate that they know everything about one thing are eagerly embraced by those who seek to understand the way forward. On the other hand, People who say that they know everything about everything raise eyebrows and are only followed by zealots. Who really has it all figured out anyway? Here’s a hint, it’s not the guy who tells the world he knows everything, no matter what their title is. But it’s also not the subject matter expert. We know what we know, and work through the rest the best we can.
We’ve all learned a lot during this ongoing pandemic. Things we didn’t know about ourselves, about others we thought we knew pretty well, about the way the world works, about what we can live without and can’t live without. None of us would do a pandemic all over again, but we might miss the simplicity of day-to-day social isolation when its over. What we thought we knew about pandemics and politics and racial injustice and the people we have known for years is not what we know now. And it promises to be different again tomorrow.
“There is only one real knowledge: that which helps us to be free. Every other type of knowledge is mere amusement.” – Vishnu Purana
I read two page-turner novels over the weekend. Blew through them in no time. Yes, it was mere amusement, but it was also a nice change of pace from the usual stack of books that I try to tackle. I try to sprinkle in fun with learning, and reading is fun until you make it a chore. Reading philosophy, history, poetry and biographies inform and mould the mind in new ways. But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. What we know shouldn’t make us boring and one-dimensional. What we know should lead us to explore our assumptions more, engage with others more, debate and learn from them, and above all keep moving closer to the truth and freedom hidden just from view. The learning path is one minor miracle of discovery after another, at least it is when the student is eagerly peaking around the corner at every bend. I feel I’ve reached that point in my own learning. I hope that knowledge quest continues until the end. I’d like to think it will.
Originally posted 6 July 2020