Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Speaking to my son who recently embarked on a new career, he talked of the end of orientation week for new-hires. Tentatively, someone offered the simple truth of new people in new jobs “There are so many things I don’t know!”

A collective sigh of relief rose as all the new-hires chimed in and agreed “I thought I was the only one that felt that way. Even with all of my education and training, when I actually started doing this for real, I realized how much I don’t know!”. The seasoned and veteran staffers smiled and agreed. “Yes, we remember being where you are now. Nobody expects you to know everything when you’re starting out. More importantly, those of us that have been here for many years must often say ‘I don’t know’.”

As we talked, I shared my own experiences, my own self-training in this matter. When going into a new situation, or one that is strange to me, or one in which the outcome is unforeseen, I am keenly aware that there are many things I don’t know. When working for a major retailer, when my district manager offered me my first store as manager, he asked “Are you ready?”. I replied “Well, I don’t know what it is that I don’t know!”

When approaching such a thing, one must realize “…but there are a lot of things I do know!”. I know how to open the door, and they probably sit on chairs here. I know how to say hello and shake hands. I know how to answer questions, and if I don’t know the answer, I know how to say “I don’t know.”

It seems many of us are unwilling to admit when we don’t know. Perhaps it’s schooling or a degree of life-learning maturity, or perhaps we don’t want to seem inadequate, or let others down. There are few things more simple, honest and empowering than having total comfort being able to say “I don’t know.”

Why did Galileo point his crude telescope into space, facing charges of heresy, to figure out if it was the sun or the earth that was the center of the solar system? Because he didn’t know.

What made Newton want to question and define the effects, origins and laws of gravity?

What made Columbus sail west to see if it was possible to circumnavigate the globe?

What made Einstein decide we needed a formula to define energy?

What made Salk continue trying to perfect a cure for polio? Why did the Russians send dogs and monkeys into space to find out what happens to mammals outside of our atmosphere? What made Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Toto seek the Wizard in hopes that he had answers to their quandaries?

It was because they didn’t know.

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ unscrupulous miser Ebeneezer Scrooge spends one night with spirits that try to enlighten him to the fact that everything we do can affect those around us, and the fashion in which we lead our lives can contribute to our being at peace and living in joy with the world, or we can be “tormented by a legion of hobgoblins”, living in hostility and loneliness. After his other-wordly experience, when he believes he has died and has no chance to make amends for his wasted years, he finds that he has been delivered, safe and sound, to his own bed, and it’s Christmas morning. “I don’t know how the spirits did it all in one night!” he says, breathlessly, then breaks into song:

I don’t know anything! I never did know anything!

But now I know that I don’t know, all on Christmas morning!

Will this dissertation help you to see and understand The power of “I don’t know”?

Well…I don’t know.

Be at peace.


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