As you are well aware by now, I am a huge nerd and have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I am constantly reading a book on some new topic that interests me or teaching myself some skill that I have always wanted to learn. Between my never-ending quest for enlightenment and spending eight years of my life in college and graduate school, I have accumulated a plethora of facts, skills, and expertise in a variety of areas, and I am learning more every day. Despite my wealth of knowledge (most of it being useless sports and movie trivia), an IQ north of 130, and multiple college degrees from top universities, I had a conversation the other day that reminded me of how dumb I really am. Maybe dumb is too strong a word, but I did have a humbling revelation about how little I actually know about life. This epiphany as to my own ignorance helped me realize some important things about my place in the world and reminded me of some valuable lessons that are vital to living a fulfilling life.
One of the best parts about having a team of nurses with you at all times is that you get to meet people from all walks of life. I have had nurses of all different ages and from more than seven different countries over the years, and it has been quite educational to get to listen to all of their stories. The other day I was talking to one of my nurses, who was born and raised in Kenya, about her weekend plans, and she mentioned that her and her husband were helping with a wedding. After talking with her about this a little more, I came to find out that what we think of as a wedding in the United States is very different from the way they do things in Kenya. It would take me a long time to go through it all here, and I doubt I would get it all right anyway, but a Kenyan wedding ceremony is quite a thing to see. They have an entire set of rituals that they “act out” in a way to remain in touch with their cultural customs in our modern world. There is a fake kidnapping, family rivalry, and a lot of other important, yet exciting, practices that they adapted to modern times to tie the knot. It was extremely interesting to get to listen to my nurse tell me about her culture, and as I was thinking about everything she had told me later that day, I had an enlightening insight into the world and my place in it.
After learning about how the Kenyan culture celebrates a wedding, I realized how much I do not know about the world. This is the first time that I can remember looking at knowledge and intelligence in terms of how much I do not know instead of how much I do know. Even with a topic as basic and important to any culture as a wedding, I know very little beyond my own limited experience. In the grand scheme of things, I really know next to nothing about weddings when you look at how much knowledge is actually out there to take in. I also realized quite quickly that if I know so little about a concept as common as a wedding, then I surely know even less about other more advanced or complex subjects. For someone who has been told his entire life how smart he is and has devoted a lot of time and energy to obtaining knowledge, this realization was quite humbling to say the least. I finally gained the perspective to see how much is out there to learn, and how little I actually know in comparison. While this was a bit off putting and discouraging at first, I soon realized that I should not see this as something to be discouraged by, but as a golden opportunity.
Now that I have come to terms with how little I know about even basic topics, there is so much more information out in the world for me to obtain. While it is a bit overwhelming to think about how much you have to learn, and it did make me feel a little like a fly on an elephant’s ass to think about what I know compared to how much knowledge is out there, for a nerd like me recognizing that there is a seemingly infinite amount of information out in the world waiting for me was very exciting. Not only that, but since everyone has their own unique, distinct background, I realized that there is not a person on this planet that does not have something to teach you about life, if you are willing to listen. So frequently we are only willing to listen to or learn from academic types with numerous degrees and titles, and these brilliant individuals do have a lot to teach you, but that does not mean that other, less formally educated, people have nothing to share with you too. My grandfather has taught me so much more about life than probably any of my teachers, and he never finished high school. Whether someone is a Fulbright scholar giving a prestigious talk or a high school dropout sitting next to you on the bus, they both have a story to tell and something to teach you. If you want to truly learn about life and how to be happy and successful, all you have to do is take the time to listen to anyone who is willing to share their story, no matter who they are.
One of the greatest thinkers of all time, Socrates (pronounced, “so crates”), once wrote, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” While I am not sure it is the “only true wisdom,” I do think that realizing both how much there is out in the world to learn, as well as how little you know in comparison, is an important aspect of leading a successful, happy life. If you look at this humbling situation as an opportunity to learn and grow as a person, there is so much for you to gain. Like any other topic, and even the lessons in this blog, by learning from others about their lives, you can obtain valuable lessons that you can apply to your own. Take a moment to stop and think about the immense amount of knowledge there is to be learned, and then take advantage of this realization to improve your life. Remember that everyone has a story to share and a lesson to pass on, if you are only willing to sit there, shut up, and listen.