“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” -William Shakespeare
“To know that you do not know is the best. To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.” -Lao-Tzu
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” -Socrates
“Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.” -Mark Twain
The older I get, the more I understand the astounding depth of my own ignorance. Just taking a wild guess, I’d say I know about .0000001% of everything there is to know and I’m being generous because I like myself so much. This world is full of puzzles that I can’t even begin to know how to solve. My life has been 15,446 days of bad decisions, false assumptions and misplaced trust.
All my life people have told me I’m a smart person, but I’ve done my best to prove them wrong. I’ve quit good jobs for no good reason. I’ve been an asshole to people who were better than me in every way. I’ve lied, cheated and stolen without any thought about how it would effect anyone else. I’ve judged what other people say and do when I know I’m no better than them in any way. At many times in my life I’ve been greedy, slothful, envious, lusted after women, and probably knocked out the rest of the seven deadly sins. I don’t know them off the top of my head. Rage is one, right? Gluttony sounds right – I’m so guilty of that one.
When I was in junior high school I had a sweatshirt with a Ziggy cartoon on it that read, “Nobody’s Perfect, and I’m a Perfect Example”. These days my sweatshirt might read, “You are all idiots, and I am your King”.
About twenty years ago I was at a party at apartment of some friends, sitting on a couch, tripping on mushrooms. My friend Aaron (who was not tripping) was there to keep me out of any trouble – and mess with me for his own amusement. As I was sitting there watching, some of my friends started wrestling, or kind of sparring with each other as if they something about martial arts. They were all drunk. I can’t explain exactly what I saw, sitting there eating my mushrooms, but it was kind of like I was watching apes fighting to establish dominance. It was as if their human identities had been removed and I was seeing what they really were. There was more to it, but I don’t know how to explain it.
William Blake wrote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”. After seeing my friends acting and looking like apes that made a lot more sense to me. My entire world view was very subtly altered. That was my one profound experience with hallucinogens*.
The reason I tell that story is because looking back, I think that was when I really became interested in understanding myself and the world around me. How do I fit into this world? What is my impact on the world around me? When you take away all the bullshit, what does the truth look like?
So for the past twenty or so years, I’ve increasingly questioned everything, and tried to see things as they truly are. Admitting and embracing my own flaws (without justifying them) is really hard. If my life is a garden, how can I pull the weeds if I’m not willing to admit there are weeds in the first place.
The thing that I am confident about at this point is that I have gained at least a little bit of wisdom as a result of all the stupid things I’ve done. Every mistake I’ve made has helped me learn something. Pulling weeds is important, and it’s also important to take a good look at those weeds and learn how to keep them from growing back.
When I was younger, I knew everything. It was Me, Stephen Hawking and Einstein in that order. Now, I barely know anything at all.
Turns out, the more I learn, the less I know.
Scroll down a bit to leave me a comment. I appreciate other points of view.
*My experiences with drugs can be counted on one hand, never included what are commonly considered to be ‘hard’ drugs and all took place when I was single and had no real responsibilities. I don’t regret my experiences, but I don’t recommend drug use.