“What one knows, one sees.” (Goethe)
Human understanding (and its corollary, communication) is an art, a science, and so much more. It’s imperfect and it’s messy.
No matter how selectively we may choose our words and no matter how thoughtfully and tenderly we may express them, there is no way to know how they may be received, interpreted, understood, utilized, or remembered by others. Even the most skilled writer or articulate speaker recognizes that the possibility of miscommunication or misunderstanding is high at the very best of times.
As with Goethe’s short quotation above, I remember being dumbfounded by the startlingly obvious expression of a profound truth shared by a fellow grad student after I wrote at great lengths about the frustrating complexity of once trying to reach consensus on questions that would affect the quality of life for thousands of people and their descendants.
You could have knocked me over with a proverbial feather when she wrote so matter-of-factly: “You’re right. People can’t know what they don’t know.” As sobering and frustrating as this was in its simplicity and seeming futility, I could not argue with it as profound truth.
As someone who had practiced teaching as a profession and who, as a reader and writer, relishes woven words of wisdom, wonder, and wellness, I was flummoxed. Despite having always been infinitely fascinated by the wide range of perspectives shaped by diverse human perceptions of experience, I felt a sense of defeat and troubling disconnect. This truth, as expressed and experienced that day, had eluded me.
Despite longstanding assumptions about universal human values regarding the desirability of meaning-filled and long-lasting change for the well-being of humanity, this statement of the facts made my vision of what was possible and desirable more daunting than ever. A similar understanding of the situation I found myself in had already been conveyed poignantly by Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” I couldn’t agree more.
Although I am always curious about many domains of human intelligence, inter- and intra-personal intelligence are the ones that never fail to captivate. What we know and believe when it comes to our relationships with others and, even more importantly, ourselves, is infinitely fascinating. We are all, methinks, “people of paradox” and the ironies and juxtapositions of human life are infinite.
Although still daunted by the bigger picture beyond that which I am living in each moment of each day with those in my immediate circle of influence, I do find solace in the words of Niels Bohr who asserts, “The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth” as well as sage guidance in the words of Michael Gelb: “Embrace ambiguity and trust your gut.”
With love as we live the questions of life,