One famous Shakespeare quote says that "a fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool," but I'm not going to lie - reading that headline made me feel like I lacked a little backbone. Maybe I do. Who knows. But one thing I've started to realize, the more I've grown up, is how much I don't know, whether it's about the world, or about other people.
My belief systems have evolved, but they have not dismantled. What I've realized, however, is that it's incredibly hard to learn when you think you know everything. I take a lot of stock in bottom-up stories instead of top-down ones that use a lot of labels, so one story written by someone named Robert Galbreath on The Guardian struck a chord with me for the past two years. Robert worked at Walmart as a temporary job before he got hired by a non-profit or got his manuscript published by Random House.
He never did - he ended up working at Walmart for nine years making $6.40 an hour, much to the dismay of his younger self. His great fear, working at Walmart, was becoming a "lifer," someone who worked at Walmart for most of their lives.
The article starts with a compelling line: "'You don't know shit!' is a hard lesson to swallow, but it was one of the first things I learned." The author learned this lesson when working with a co-worker named Nathan, a "lifer" and a "right-wing nut" whose political beliefs did not align at all with the audience of the article. Nathan believed that any federal intervention into his life was "communism," that any idea of foreign policy was to "blast the Middle East into one big, gleaming sheet of glass."
For Robert, myself, and the overall audience of The Guardian, these are views that we abhor. But when Nathan grew up, his parents passed away, leaving him with crippling property taxes and a mortgage on the family property. That meant he never got to go to college and worked for a while in a local lumber factory.
One day, Nathan and Robert had to move pallets from the truck to different sections of the store, and I've worked at Walmart for a summer, so let me tell you that the pallet jack is one of the most impossible things to maneuver in the world. Nathan and Robert have a major disagreement about how to move the pallet, and Robert was hellbent that he was right and that he knew what he was doing. Nathan screamed back at him:
"You don't know shit!"
Immediately, Robert threatened to report Nathan to the manager, but a box of grape juice falls on Robert as he slips and falls on his face, his pants are soaked, and his pride is deeply wounded. Even though the two had been arguing, Nathan helps him up, asks if he's OK, and never says a word of the embarrassing incident to anyone else.
"Over the years, I learned that Nathan was quick to forgive, and would drop everything to assist anyone who needed help. Despite his not-so-politically-correct, rightwing remarks and jokes, Nathan greeted and talked to everyone he encountered with genuine respect and kindness, regardless of that person's age, gender, or ethnicity."
I've written about this before as to why I stopped talking politics, and I've used almost the same description of the article in this shameless attempt at self-plagiarism. But the article struck a chord with me because of that mantra - "You don't know shit." That will not be a mantra I'll ever impose on other people, but it is one that I've said to myself whenever I'm trying to learn something or study - how can you really learn when you know everything?
Saying "I don't know" is sometimes the smartest thing you can do because you become more open and malleable. When I'm at work or in a simple conversation, saying "I don't know" encourages other people to speak up and voice their opinions. I've learned that listening, rather than doing all the talking, is profoundly more rewarding the majority of the time. I had an English class that was the most challenging, yet rewarding class I've had in college where my professor flat out did very little of the talking and challenged us in a seminar-like classroom by playing Devil's advocate. To this day, I have no idea where he stands on certain issues in the class, or what he really believes. His job was to teach us, not impose his views on us, and at the end of the day, that's what he did more than any other professor I've had.
Saying "I don't know" admits a certain vulnerability about yourself, an uncertainty about how you're going to navigate the next thing you do. I personally started doing it because of how often I was wrong : a lot of the people I made preconceived notions of in college ended up changing my life. A friend I initially thought was too scathing and abrasive ended up changing my career plans, while another friend I initially thought was a "Bible freak" ended up putting me on the path to change my religion.
Francesco De Marco Photography on Instagram: “Angolo di Campo Imperatore che sembrano usciti dai libri di favole. #abruzzo #francescodemarcophotography . . . . . #500px…”
It would be a lie for me to say that I don't know anything, or you don't know anything. We're all right about a lot of things. But that's not the point, or even the most important thing at the end of the day. Saying "I don't know" is more of a mindset to keep yourself vulnerable and open-minded about the world, about your future. It's a way of keeping humility, patience, and respect, because what saying "I don't know" also does is that it forces you to wait before you make a judgment about someone, and a lot of the times, you'll learn something about the person that flies in the face of that judgment you were about to make.
What do you call someone like me, who openly admits that I don't know shit? Am I people pleaser? Yeah, I think so. But that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. The more I say that to myself, the more I can step back and actually learn, because God knows I have more than enough of that to do.