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 Copyright © June 2003

Do You "Get it" or Not?

How Our Need to Look Knowledgeable Can Really Make Us Stupid....

~written from the common sense perspective of The Winds of the Soul~

by Dr. Gregory C.D. Young, Ph.D.(Oxon.)

 
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Having the awareness and courage to admit that we don't know something, or "not getting it," is generally the first step we all have to make in order to begin the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge.

I wonder if we know how often we close the door on ourselves claiming that we know something when in fact we don't.  What with all the pressure out there in the world to "appear" to know what we're talking about, and those that stand cowardly in the wings waiting to deride someone who may be mistaken, most people are hesitant to admit that they don't understand something rather than open themselves up for public ridicule.  And that's really a shame...  Having the awareness and courage to admit that we don't know something, or "not getting it," is generally the first step we all have to make in order to begin the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge.  But because of our pride and needs of social acceptance, we are prone to remain dim-witted, pretending we know something when in fact we really don't.   

Copyright © 2002 Dr. Gregory C.D. Young, Ph.D.(Oxon.).  All Rights Reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, including but not limited to all forms of media print, audio, electronic and video reproduction,  without the prior express and specific written content of the author, except in cases of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. 

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More people will in the end respect and admire you if you're honest about what you know and what you don't.  More people will like you and regard your opinions with some weight if you don't try to sell to another that which you don't know, not having taken the time to discover the difference.  Make sure your boat can float before you try it out in the water; it's sure easier to fix while it's still on land than at the bottom of the sea.... 

I don't know where this notion of "not knowing something is shameful" came from, but it is a reality with which we all contend.  In fact, our world seems to take great joy in covering up anything that it thinks it should, especially if one is rewarded.  But what a waste of time it is to lie about such matters.  Surely, there is no shame in "not knowing."  Shame is only reserved for those who keep themselves from understanding, who spend their time and energies instead erecting false facades of understanding and scaffolding of lies to pretend knowledge and wisdom for public approval.  Politicians and parents take note!  More people will in the end respect and admire you if you're honest about what you know and what you don't.  More people will like you and regard your opinions with some weight if you don't try to sell to another that which you don't know, not having taken the time to discover the difference.  Make sure your boat can float before you try it out in the water; it's sure easier to fix while it's still on land than at the bottom of the sea.... 

But in the interests of being liked, accepted, approved, regarded, and esteemed, we often imagine ourselves more knowledgeable and sure about things than we really are.  It's something that we think others will be attracted to and rush to make that impression.  Yet, we've all put a number of boats on the water only to watch them sink before our eyes, haven't we?

I've never met anybody who didn't want to be smart, and yet most people I know are habitually afraid to honestly admit what it is that they don't know, believing that they will lose face and credibility in the eyes of others.  And that proclivity to avoid embarrassment keeps them from every really knowing anything....  If their ignorance is ever exposed, it's as if they were receiving a shameful reproof and criticism, something to turn away from and hide rather than see as an opportunity for change and advancement. 

Ironically, probably one of the most freeing and positive things we can do for ourselves personally and socially in advancing our own self-confidence and self-esteem, is to admit what we "don't know" instead of fashioning some speech (a lie) that simply tries to cover up the fact.  What I hope to convey this month flies right in the face of what many think they have to do everyday of their life, namely, remain publically and personally dishonest about the things they know and don't know, all for the sake of self, familial, and public acceptance. 

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Cultivating the habit of respecting and regarding what it is that we "don't get" or don't understand is found to be the very road to inspiration and wisdom.  Truth be known, these are the very personal habits of such people as Edison, Einstein, Newton, Shakespeare, MacDonald, and Kempis, to name just a few, who have by these very means discovered great Truths. 

Apart from public pressures, our own pride can often fool us into believing that we know something when we don't, as well.  And that's our greatest hurdle to get over if we are ever to begin the process of true learning.  Unknown by many is the goodly and wise habit of becoming astutely and personally aware of the differences between what we know and what we don't.  The value of this knowledge alone is often trivialized and underestimated by the masses. 

Yet, it this specific knowledge and awareness that has successfully steered some of the world's greatest minds.  Indeed, admitting and becoming familiar with what is not personally known has been the means by which fantastic discoveries have been made.  Cultivating the habit of respecting and regarding what it is that we "don't get" or don't understand is found to be the very road to inspiration and wisdom.  Truth be known, these are the very personal habits of such people as Edison, Einstein, Newton, Shakespeare, MacDonald, and Kempis, to name just a few, who have by these very means discovered great Truths.  If you take the time to familiarize yourself with the lives of such men, it becomes immediately apparent that what they didn't know and refused to be ashamed about, is exactly that which led them to their greatest and grandest discoveries.  According to them, it all begins by becoming aware of what we really don't know. 

For instance, Albert Einstein is known to have brooded and ruminated about the notion of time and space for years, acknowledging to himself that everybody else's' understanding he didn't understand.   He made no pretense about "getting it" when in fact he did not.  In his own account, he believes he was advancing more slowly developmentally than his peers as a child, and he admits that where most other children were already moving on in their understanding of things, he remained stuck at a certain age because he didn't understand the nature of time, light, and space or the other accepted ideas about it.  He would spend hour upon hour thinking about this, trying to figure it out so that it made sense to him.  Whereas other children accepted the normal understanding of time passing and the physical universe in which they found themselves, or as defined by their teachers and parents, he admitted that it just didn't make sense to him; he just "didn't get" what other kids claimed they had already gotten and didn't lie to himself about it otherwise (like most of us do).  He remained preoccupied with the fundamentals that others simply brushed aside and accepted as "real," until he figured out a piece of our physical reality, a more clear understanding that yet seems based in science fiction to most minds still.      

Thomas Edison had a similar experience when growing up, though others thought him stupid, if not "touched," because he didn't go with the flow of his time.  His earliest teachers were constantly frustrated with his manner and inability to learn what they taught him.  It was said that he had no appreciation for the "facts" and could not hold onto them within his head.  It seems that Mr. Edison was one that "didn't get it" either.  But look what his "not getting it" finally yielded---literally thousands of inventions!

Isaac Newton was a below-average undergraduate student at Oxford, one who his tutors thought was dull, uninteresting, and wouldn't amount to much.  He was yet another individual who "didn't get it" in his time, not performing as well as his peers who showed much more promising futures according to university records.  And yet because he didn't throw in his cards with the rest, his not "getting it" advanced our understanding of things more than any in his graduating class. 

All of these individuals and more like them, held in common the one fact that they made no pretense of "not getting it."  They were true to themselves and would not attempt to persuade confusion or popular nuance to be their mentor.  They would not feign an understanding when in fact they didn't understand, no matter the pressures around them to conform or perform  differently.  As we can immediately see, this idea of admitting that we "don't get it" takes a little courage, a lot of honesty, and a fair bit of personal integrity.  

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And yet, contrary to our public understanding, "not getting it" and knowing that you "don't get it" is the first step to understanding, opening up doors that few others have passed through, yielding secrets and mysteries in sciences and art that few others have surpassed.  "Not getting it," I would propose, is far more important than "getting it." 

Makes you kind of wonder doesn't it, what with our educational institutions as they are, prone to push kids in their understanding of things so as to keep them advancing ahead of the academic pack....  Maybe it's not so good to hurry another's understanding of things--who knows who you could be negligently hurrying?  How many kids have been pushed so quickly that they missed an opportunity to discover greater truths that the rest of us just didn't even bother to see or wonder about?  How many kids could have benefited by knowing that it's okay "not to know," instead of always being thrown into a competitive educational situation where "not to know" means failure....?   And how many of our families have tenaciously held to the same course?  We raise our kids not to think for themselves, but to perform for others....

And perhaps this is where it all starts.  Our familial systems and educational institutions are not geared to teach the way of wisdom and understanding.  They only act bureaucratically now, rewarding answers and not questions, approving of those "who get it," rather than those who don't.  Promoting such tom-foolery further, our schools deal in "facts," glorifying those who can memorize them and faulting those who cannot.  Our Universities are not so much interested in advancing our civilization rather than churning out graduates that are probably not as well prepared "to think" and know less than those that managed to finish High School a hundred years ago.  Talk about the "fact" of devaluation!  Things are certainly not worth what they used to be.     

And yet, contrary to our public understanding, "not getting it" and knowing that you "don't get it" is the first step to understanding, opening up doors that few others have passed through, yielding secrets and mysteries in science and art that few others have surpassed.  "Not getting it," I would propose, is far more important than "getting it."  To be able to admit that you don't understand something is worth more than a rote answer any day, and far more than the pretentiousness associated with thinking that we are wise when we are not!  Indeed, if we can stay the course, and advance our inquiry about the things that we "don't get," we will likely discover some great truths about ourselves, about others, even the world and the physical environment around us.

We should be promoting those that ask good questions about the things they admit to not understanding, quality questions that challenge our basic understanding of things and which would lead to deeper appreciation for the Truth in whatever subject matter there is before us. We should foster these same habits within ourselves and within each other, carefully examining the questions and answers with which we seem so comfortable, looking for other possible avenues of discovery.  Learning to prepare ourselves to challenge the norm of supposedly "getting it" takes a little getting used to, though.  It can turn our world upside down, for it may surprise us as how much we really "don't get" things, not really understanding what we thought we did at all, but have settled on half-understandings and half-baked truths because they were more comfortable and self-serving at the time.  Again, this takes courage, honesty, and integrity.   

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Admitting and becoming familiar with what we don't know has been and remains today the very means to advance our scientific understanding.  It becomes the basis of how we construct hypotheses and design experiments.  It opens doors to our understanding of how things work, showing us patterns that have multiple applications in other areas of interest.

Admitting and becoming familiar with what we don't know has been and remains today the very means to advance our scientific understanding.  It becomes the basis of how we construct hypotheses and design experiments.  It opens doors to our understanding of how things work, showing us patterns that have multiple applications in other areas of interest.  Moreover, it can be the means by which we make fewer mistakes, and learn by the mistakes we do make, challenging endeared but mistaken paradigms for the better. 

However, when science has disregarded these tenets, that's when the greatest errors have been made and the greatest harm have been perpetuated, such as those made first by Charles Darwin and later the Smithsonian's very own political Dr. Charles Walcott, who both wrongly advanced their own faulty, erroneous, and self-serving ideas of evolution stemming from random reactions.  (For more on this see Chapter 10, The Winds of the Soul.)  Walcott especially could not admit to himself or publically that he just didn't understand, and ended up hiding deep within the vaults of the Smithsonian for eighty years the simple but startling proof that Darwin was wrong.

So, why it is that admission of "what we don't know" has become such an anathema to us personally makes reason stare, especially when it has been so resolutely respected within the hard sciences!  It appears that the value of saving face has precedence over all things....

But, not only do we close the doors on our own understanding of the world around us when thinking that we "get it" when we don't, we can hurt each other as well.  In fact, the greatest harm we can do to each other is to think that we understand one another when in fact we don't.  Premature consolidation of our understanding of others can be a great detriment to our relationships, and in fact is prejudicial.  The real self-deception is in believing that you know someone well, when in fact you don't.  Outside of people's perceived habits, we really cannot see everything there is to see about another, no matter how much time you spend with them.  Making matters more complicated, our perceptions of others are often highly colored by our own psychologies much of the time anyway, being yet another barrier to see through in order to understand someone clearly. 

Generally all that we allow ourselves to know about another person is that which already comfortably fits within our own limited persona.  We rarely tread further than home or entertain anything outside the known neighborhood of ideas within ourselves.   And that's especially true when we prove to abjure introspection and self-examination.  To be sure, our world can become very linear, dead-ended, and prematurely contained when so constrained.  It's odd that there are those that clamor for people that are new and different in their lives, when in fact, they have rarely understood anybody that they've professed to have met.  It's generally our own short-sightedness and selfishness that leads to boredom, nothing more.... Indeed, we are often only bored with our limited understanding that we have allowed to lazily define another! 

In contrast, the best way to advance a relationship is admit to how ignorant you may be of another to begin with.  This opens the doors for new possibilities, allowing the freshness of the unknown to wake us up, and begin inquiry into their very nature, as well as our own.  Self- and other-discovery, you see, begins best when we admit that we don't often ever "get" or understand one another.  Although there is comfort in coming to know another person, realizing that there are personality consistencies present that merit a friendship---there is always the advantage in keeping ourselves aware of not always "getting" or completely understanding another, and thereafter refraining from putting someone into our box of expectations and then closing the lid. We can circumvent a lot of anger, contention, and misunderstanding when not trying to fit another into our understanding of them, or vice versa. 

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I have come to see that I don't "get" a lot of things in life and have learned not to fear the fact of not knowing, or be afraid of others that pretend that they do.  In fact, I'm still learning that the most exciting things before me are the things that I have yet to understand, things in psychology about myself and other people, things about God and how we see Him, things about this physical universe of His and how it gloriously works.

Thus, the problems of thinking that we "get it" when we don't, lead us to blindly follow courses of conduct that are generally self-destructive.  It can adversely affect our entire lives. 

I have come to see that I don't "get" a lot of things in life and have learned not to fear the fact of not knowing, or be afraid of others that pretend that they do.  In fact, I'm still learning that the most exciting things before me are the things that I have yet to understand, things in psychology about myself and other people, things about God and how we see Him, things about this physical universe of His and how it gloriously works.  I know, or rather believe, that things are often connected to each other in ways that I cannot readily see, I just don't understand how or why.  There's still a lot that I "don't get," a lot of questions that have yet to have been answered.  But when I suddenly become aware of my ignorance, that in itself no longer defines who I am, or is a source of embarrassment.  Rather, instead of wrongly feeling stupid about what I don't know, it simply becomes yet another problem that needs looking into on my scientific bench, a problem whose answers suddenly becomes more interesting and promising than I originally was aware. 

In the process, I think I've discovered something most remarkable:  When we remember ourselves as being little children, remembering the countenance of being willing to learn about things and not being shamed into accepting things before that understanding really and truly "clicks" within us, then we prepare ourselves for better tomorrows and better relationships with others around us.  When I can "be" the child within myself, "be" the children I used to be, then I am no longer ashamed of myself because I don't know something, and become most alerted to that which I do not know.  Subsequently, others around me no longer have the power to ridicule and harm my self-esteem.  In fact, the power of honest inquiry brings with it a Light that turns the sometimes nefarious intentions of others upon themselves, exposing them to their own sharpened blades of disrespect, while making me more courageous, honest, and integrous.  Furthermore, being able to say that "I don't get it," or that "I don't understand" is a remarkable find, because it suddenly becomes a strength and bulwark against the accepting of false positives, or the acceptance of erroneous conclusions, something all children are very good at protecting against. 

If a day goes by and I haven't heard myself say that "I don't get it" at least a half a dozen times, then I know that I have been unaware of the people and things around me, perhaps even lazy and slovenly wasting time and energy both.  I don't know about you, but that's not the way I wish to spend my days.  I like being able to say that "I don't get it."  It's okay to not understand.  It makes me feel that I'm on solid ground and makes me feel more solidly about myself, readying my mind to understand.

Finally, if you don't believe any of this, try making a list of all the things that you think you really have understood in life.  If your list is short, then I believe you're on the way of becoming very smart.  If your list is long, then perhaps you're part of the problem, something that you're still "not getting...." 

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About the Author:  Dr. Gregory C.D. Young, Ph.D.(Oxon.) is a Clinical Psychologist and Neuroscientist having been educated abroad where he completed his postgraduate studies at King’s College, the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and then graduated and received his Doctorate from the University of Oxford, Oxford, England. He has been in private clinical practice and medical research for over 25 years, being active as an author, popular radio and TV personality, public speaker, and biomedical researcher. An expert in a number of fields including Forensic/Criminal Psychology, Child and Family/Relationship Psychology, and Neuropsychology.  He has also served as an expert scientific advisor, product innovator and formulator, and professional consultant to the Medical and Pharmaceutical Industries. He is the author of The Winds of the Soul~Heaven’s First Voice To Us, as well as numerous other scholarly papers and works.

  Why don’t you take a moment and become part of the discussion.  Of course, more of this discussion can be gleaned from in the book.  Share with me your perspective, questions, and comments; tell me what you think of all this by emailing me at: DrYoung@WindsoftheSoul.com.


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