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Sympathy With Intelligence

“A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful—while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. Which is the best man to deal with—he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all? My desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant. The highest that we can attain to is not Knowledge, but Sympathy with Intelligence.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walking

We arrive at a deeper understanding and empathy with the world by getting out into it. If there’s been a curse to the pandemic, it’s the distinct lack of getting out there to encounter a different perspective on things than you might have sheltered in place with your favorite sound bites and tweets.

If the last 6-7 years were defined by anything, it’s this growing assurance that your side is right and any other is wrong. The world seemingly spiraled down into an antagonistic cesspool of us versus them. What’s missing is empathy: the putting ourselves in their shoes part. Seek first to understand and then to be understood, as Stephen Covey would have put it. He’d be shaking his head at the world we find ourselves in today.

Getting out to meet the world is the solution to this problem. Seeing things the way they look from the other side offers perspective unavailable to those who don’t venture past the mailbox. The idea of getting out to see the world seems to be the most logical thing in the world to many of us, but fills others with dread. Would you live your life forever in a shell or break out of your limited view of the universe and see what’s really out there?

This week I’m getting back out in the world, not for work, but for pleasure. To see things from a different vantage point, to seek the truth about how things are in a place other than here. To bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet and return with a new perspective on this world. And then, boldly, to do it again.

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