I hope Sophocles got it right when he said, 'Not knowing anything is the sweetest life'. While I can not vouch for taste, I agree that when it comes to knowing stuff, my response would have to be, 'Not Much'. I recall that back in my Uni-daze, when I went through a period of trying to kill myself by degrees, one of the most important things I learned when it came to knowing how much I knew was humility – the more I thought I knew , the more aware I became of knowing that I did not know. I soon found out that I was not Robinson Crusoe: many others were in the same boat. And as we age, it sees, we become increasingly aware of how little we know.
A fellow I know recently told me that, for the past eight years, he has traveled across Japan with the Dalai Lama. According to this fellow, the one things this very wise man – the Dalai Lama – said every day was, 'I do not know'. Whatever the questions were, 'What's going to happen to Tibet?' or 'When will there be world peace?' or 'What is the best way to raise kids?', the Dalai Lama's response was the same, 'I do not know'.
Of course, this does not mean that ignorance is bliss. It's just that, when it comes to finding answers to everyday questions, most of the time, we're in the dark. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman observed, we have an 'unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance'.
The opposite of knowledge is rarely ignorance. Ageing seems to bring with it wonder, mystery, and a realization (or acceptance) that, in the long run, not knowing does not really matter all that much. It could be, that it's the things we do not know that have brought us closer together: we're all in the same boat.
So, what can we do about it? Few would argue that the pursuit of knowledge in areas such as science has made our lives brighter and longer and healthier: most of us are now living longer, better. There are three messages, therefore, for us to take on board.
- Accept that we can not know everything, so we'd better get over it.
- Act humbly. Know-it-alls are so transparent that most people have no problem seeing through them.
- Move on. Nothing is to be gained from living in the past and wiping for our time over again. Proceed with enthusiasm!