As a child, my favorite book was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Like Harriet, I toted a notebook and scrawled scathing observations. I shared her curiosity about people and the bizarre things they do.
Besides stimulating my inner writer, 11-year-old Harriet offered precocious philosophical advice. In fact, she gave me the wisdom I’ve come to live by. Here’s the quote about Harriet that’s stuck with me:
She never minded admitting she didn’t know something. So what, she thought; I could always learn. (p. 50)
Of course, it’s taken me 25 years to fully embrace Harriet’s philosophy. Growing up, my educator uncles used me as a guinea pig. At least, that’s how I felt. I was frequently quizzed– and frequently stumped. Afraid to admit my ignorance, I’d make some excuse to escape or dissolve in tears. I thought I was supposed to know everything, or at least know how to figure it out.
Harriet knew– and now I know– that you only learn when you’re willing to admit what you don’t know, and risk making mistakes. Actually, the more you do those things, the smarter you get.
Take yoga, for example. I’m more comfortable with a familiar instructor, music, and routine. But it s better for me– mentally and physically– to take a different class and be pushed to expand my repertoire. I may not look very graceful, but inside I’m growing because I’m learning. I’ve even considered teaching, now that I’ve realized I don’t need to achieve perfection first.
It’s great to feel so marvelously human. Flawed, confused, yet still struggling to figure things out and hoping to do better next time. Finally, a goal, and a life, I can embrace with integrity.
These days, I skip the tried and true for the new and mysterious. And, along the way, I ask lots of questions. When something eludes me– and many things do– I admit I’m lost. I’ve found that folks are willing to help me understand. It even seems to make them feel good.
Sure, you can pretend to know it all. And you may fool some of the people, some of the time. But you’ll know the truth. And so you’ll grow increasingly anxious, though never any smarter.
As for me and Harriet, we’ll admit what we don’t know. But, then– oh, then– we can learn.
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