Sometimes I marvel at how much I don’t know.
You think as you get older, you’ll learn more stuff, and you’ll have more experience, and you’ll meet more people, and you’ll just know more. And that sounds pretty all right, as these things go.
But sometimes it feels like the older I get, the more I don’t know. Like, you’d think I’d understand other people’s motivations better by now. I’ve spent my entire life studying other people’s motivations. But, you know, a lot of the time, I really don’t have a clue. Often I can barely remember even the basic truism that other people aren’t automatically like me. So then all I can do is sit back and try to take care of myself, because that’s at least one thing I’ve learned how to do, more or less.
Or sometimes I look at another person’s circumstances, and I can see things are suboptimal. The person is not happy. They aren’t getting what they want. And it’s so easy as an outsider to think, well, obviously this person should do xyz, and that would at least be an improvement. But really, that kind of thinking is often silly. Because who knows what they should do better than themselves? Maybe there are more circumstances I’m not aware of. Maybe they’re trying to do xyz, but there are complications and difficulties. They may be obviously not getting something they want, but maybe they’re getting something else they want, you know? And who is in a better position to figure that out than the person themselves? There are exceptions to this (of course, because one thing I’ve learned is how often there are exceptions), but so often the answer is: No one. No one is in a better position.
I don’t always know about things I know a lot about, either. Like novels. I read Robert Charles Wilson’s The Affinities a few months ago–it must have been back in July sometime–and I wouldn’t have thought that novel would have worked if someone simply explained it to me. It skips time all over the place, which kept irritating me while I read it, and a lot of stuff happened that didn’t seem all that relevant, and the characters were not all that compelling. I was skeptical about the whole thing, but when I finished it, it all seemed to hang together and work to explore an interesting idea. And now it’s been three months and I’m still thinking about it, while there are other books I was reading around that time that I definitely enjoyed more but am not thinking about at all. So by at least one measure, it was a very successful novel, even though fifty pages in, I was wondering at the wisdom of buying it in hardcover.
And I don’t always know what choices to make in my own life, either. My path is not always clear.
This all reminds me of this old nugget: The wiser you become, the less you realize you know.
What I didn’t realize is that I’d still wish for all the knowledge I don’t have.