I Don’t Know Squat

It has taken me the better part of two decades to figure out that I do not know everything. There are topics in which I can speak of with encyclopedia-like detail. (The modern history of Russia in the post-Soviet era; books; nail polish, and hockey–to name a few) I can talk about myself until people get sick of hearing about me (which they do often). I have always had a thirst for knowledge, and I am continually seeking new ways to learn about the mysteries of life, and what it means to be human.

In my early years, (between the ages of 15 to at least 25) my desire to learn manifested itself as pretentious arrogance and a blatant disregard for anyone who did not share the same values and interests as me. If  people agreed with me, they were decent, intelligent, and interesting. Anyone who did not agree was a moron—no exceptions. It was near-impossible to get me to admit I was wrong. If I did, I did it in such a way that still made the other person look like the bad guy. I remember an argument I had in which I realized halfway through that I was dead wrong, but I kept on fighting because I was “winning”. I didn’t win anything, but the fact that I used my logic and reasoning (and bullying) to get a person (who was right) to back off was enough to validate me.

However, with unreasonable pride comes a fall, and I fell hard. For years, I found myself in situations where all of my experience and information could not save me. I lost the thing that has always given me the most confidence; my intelligence. I don’t remember the exact situation, but when I found out that learning is continuous rather than complete, it opened up a whole new world for me, but not before making me feel ridiculous for believing I was infallible. Admitting that I was ignorant made me more free to learn, rather than relying on what I already knew. It also made me more willing to listen to points of view that differed from mine without rejecting them as false. (Or stupid)

Getting knocked off of a high horse can make a person insecure, but I can see now that I was insecure already. It just looked different because I covered my insecurity by making other people feel stupid. Being humbled in that way enabled me to see the myriad ways in which other people can contribute. Not just with their intellect, but with their experiences, talent, and support.

I can ask other people to help me with the areas I am not as well-versed in, like anything science-related. I can freely admit that I am not good at everything, and I do not feel any pressure to try. It is difficult for me to ask for help, but I can do it without feeling ashamed. How much I do not know does not define me, and admitting when I’m wrong takes more courage than pretending to have all the answers.

I will probably be a solitude-seeker until the day I die, but I also value the cultivation of relationships. The know-it-all part of my personality alienated me from people because it exalted being right above being kind and respectful toward others. Making mistakes is an integral part of my development. By getting things wrong, I can see what is right. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I have also grown from them.

That is not to say that I don’t still have moments. Occasionally, I find myself doing an internal eye roll at the things that some people say and do. I have to guard my mouth daily, so I don’t say anything snide, rude, or dismissive, and I still think that some people behave like morons. On the other hand, I am aware of it now, whereas before I would stubbornly refuse to acknowledge my failings.

Carelessness can destroy any rapport that I may have with people because I don’t think about how my words and actions will impact them. However, now that I have confirmation that I don’t know squat, I can learn from anyone without erroneously believing that I am somehow better than they are. One of the most intelligent people I have ever known was my maternal grandfather. He was a champion of logic. An intellectual with decades of life experience and wisdom, and only a 7th grade education. His brilliance was not just in what he knew, but how he applied it to his life. I once witnessed him win a debate with a person who had a master’s degree. The MA had several years of education to back him up, but that was no match for my grandfather’s 80+ years of living and applying knowledge.

I never know what other people will teach me, so I am no longer self-important enough to think that I cannot learn from them. Personally, I am proud to admit when I do not know something because being the one with all the answers is annoying.

(Seriously. People asked me questions all the time, and got upset when I could not answer them. No, thank you.)

That is all for now,

Erin

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