“To say you don’t know is the beginning of knowing.” -Chinese proverb, from Thich Nhat Hanh’s
The Heart of Understanding
While I was in teacher training at the Perri Institute, this was one of the first lessons that TaraMarie taught us—in order to acquire knowledge, we must recognize that there is knowledge to be acquired. When we’re over-confident in our own expertise, we have a tendency to shut out the other sources of information that are coming our way. We become satisfied with our own understandings, and this satisfaction creates a mental block that prevents new ideas from entering our consciousness. We may believe that we’re being open-minded, but so long as we are unable to admit that we have much—if not all—to learn, then we are as resistant to new information as a cat is to a bubble bath.
There is a long list of things that I’ll readily admit I know absolutely nothing about: football, organic chemistry, electronic repair, making macarons… the list goes on. But there is also a list of things over which I’m hesitant to claim ignorance. My knowledge of Harry Potter trivia is, for example, rather thorough—as is my ability to quote the majority of the dialogue in
. While these examples are silly, there are more serious matters that I’ve read about quite regularly: debates about the environmental impact of organic versus conventional produce, about the effects of the digital age on the music industry, about the future of artists in the ever-expensive New York City, etc. After the sixth or seventh article, it becomes easier to form an opinion that, while perhaps sounding impressive at dinner parties, is not necessarily grounded in any sort of personal experience, or even primary source documentation. When I find myself latching on to the opinions of either one side or another, I must remind myself—I am not a scientist who has studied agriculture first-hand. Nor am I in any way an authority on the music industry, as I’m pretty sure singing in the shower does not constitute independent artist. My knowledge of the ebbs and flows of NYC’s economy is minimal, and the four years I’ve spent here as a performing artist are few compared to the decades experienced and documented by others. While I may know a little more about these topics than, let’s say, a newborn, I still have much to learn.
Admitting that you don’t know something is actually incredibly empowering. It may sound counterintuitive, but once you realize that you’re a blank canvas, you also realize the infinite number of colors, shapes, and materials available to you to start painting your picture. The words “I don’t know” don’t have to be paired with two hands thrown upward in defeat. Instead, we can find a teacher, grab a notebook, and follow our sentiment with “tell me more”.
So, in the spirit of greeting a new year with a clean slate and new intentions, I propose that we also clear out the blocks on what we think we know, and instead open ourselves up to what we don’t.
Have there been times when you've found yourself a little resistant to new information? Have there been moments when you’ve been able to acknowledge that your understandings have room to grow?