Substrates of Thought: Limitations

  1. What I don’t know is greater than what I do know.

I have had the blessing of having been very, very wrong about some things.

This could get existential real quick, so I’ll start with the simple.  If you get nothing else out of this post, please understand this: it’s okay to be wrong.  We cannot engage one another and truth until we are really okay with being wrong.  Let that sink in deep.

Our view of the world is based on our perception of it: our sensory and processing systems, our memory, our logic and reasoning.  How do we know we can trust these faculties?  What a terrifying question!  And yet I can recount for you, and I’m sure all of us to some degree can recall, a time when each of these faculties failed us.  Have you ever lost your sense of taste because of a cold?  Looked straight at something and didn’t see it?  Forgotten someone’s name?  Misread a situation?  These are innocuous examples of a greater challenge.  Can we really trust our interpretation of the world?

How do we live with that question?

The conclusion I have come to is that we must.  We must accept that what we don’t know is far greater than what we do know, and that what we do know and believe could be incorrect.  We must engage with other people and cultures and allow them to change us, not so that we can be like them, but so that they can expose our assumptions.  We must know which of our beliefs are not up for debate, and allow the rest to be adaptable.

As we go on, you will see how pervasively this understanding impacts my thinking.  One practical way I try to apply this truth is when I listen to another person speak or read something they have read.  So many times we listen to another person, assuming we already know what they are going to say.  We fill in the details based on what we assume they are saying.  What if we let the gaps be silence and listened to their silence as much as their words?  One of my best friends told me many years ago, “You say more in your silences than you do with your words.”  What if we gave everyone the same respect she gave to me?

Another practical application is to understand my particular filter.  I am a millennial white girl from the Midwest, and I always will be.  Sometimes, when I know my filter, I can sort out my assumptions from the other person’s message.  Sometimes, I miss it.  Sometimes sorting out a message takes more effort, and I know not to engage if I am tired or hangry.  How does your awareness of your own limitations impact your life in practical ways?

The longer I live, the more lightly I hold my assumptions about the world.  However, in the crucible of this existential conundrum, I take great comfort in those beliefs (assumptions, really) which are not up for debate.  What is real and true goes on being real and true, no matter what I believe.

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