Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

You Don’t Have to Know What You’re Doing

Originally posted on July 9, 2011

The other day it occurred to me that although I have high status in several areas, have diplomas and certificates and am generally thought to know what I’m doing, in fact, most of the time, I do not know what I’m doing! I sort of explore the world, improvise, get feedback, adjust, negotiate, feel my way into, and use these various inputs to keep going. Perhaps in a more general sense I know what I’m doing, in the sense of being somewhat oriented. But the point I’m making here is that I realized that I had expected a more stable sense of really knowing—and that contrasted with an awareness that my reality is in fact far more fluid and “in process.”

I realized yet again what a distortion the common 20th century practice of testing as a major element in schooling does to our mind. It implies that valuable knowledge is, well, known—and that means that facts— even seemingly irrelevant facts—even trivia—are successfully memorized. Aha, now I “know” it. But this contrasted with my growing awareness that real life is a creative process of exploration, experimentation, correction—far more cybernetic.

Then there’s another realm of life in which cultivating un-knowing is a major skill. One application of this is wonder, enjoying the not-knowing and the feeling of what a friend called “astonish-mentality.” It adds to the sense of spiritual surrender and relaxation, adds to the serenity possible in life, and even to the delight of the “inner child.” Related to this is the need to dip into this not-knowing-ness to become more surprised and yet open (rather than closed and judgmentally defensive) when I discover that others think or perceive quite differently from me.

I realized that the 20th century world-view for the most part equates competence with knowing, as if one either had or did not have certain facts available to the mind. The operative word is “have” as in “grasp”—a pervasive valuing of ownership, property, and, sad to say, identity. It supports the satirical sign I once saw: “The one with the most stuff when he dies wins.” These words implicitly critique the culturally pervasive value of “winning” as well as the consumerist valuing of “having stuff.” But I am beginning to question my cultural conditioning, my need to have, to own, to know. I’ve been there, done that, and I’m impressed with the degree of clutter that produces. I’m turning (very gradually) towards simplicity and letting go. It’s not easy. But the idea of knowing versus not-knowing is a facet of this whole 20th century world-view.

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