The Importance of Learning What I Don’t Know

Alfredo Fernandez


HAVANA TIMES – One of the most important aspects of wisdom, in my opinion, is being able to recognize what I don’t know. Let me explain… the immense traffic of knowledge today (ten thousand new pages are written every day on any subject) turns us into people who are threatened by misinformation all the time. 

Today, it’s easy to find out that a news article published a week ago is already old news, and that’s because the velocity with which new information technologies have taken over our lives, has changed absolutely everything. Having a cellphone with an Internet connection 24/7 changed the entire game.

A teacher in a classroom can be called out immediately by a student who digs around a bit on Google to see whether what they are saying is true. The lead on a scientific investigatory project at any university can immediately discover (from some subordinate) that there is no sense in investigating their particular project, or that other cleverer researchers at another university on the other side of the world, beat them to it by a couple of hours.

This is what our lives have become ever since new technologies broke out among us. Wisdom today regains sense from need, it needs to be imposed by anyone who wants to reach an intelligent solution, to the inevitable circumstance of dealing with an avalanche of information that the Internet shows us today; something nobody can escape.

We either learn to live with information overload, where what was irrefutable this morning, can be fake news in the afternoon, or our feeling of insecurity and the fact that life can be cruel will eat us alive, even the better educated of us. That age-old maxim from Socrates: “All I know is that I know nothing,” has become an indisputable reality like never before.

A few years ago, a renowned teacher told me that he had a student who he admired more than anyone else. “He knows the limits of his knowledge, he might not be the best in class, but such a detail, overlooked by his colleagues, makes him shine in my eyes.”

This professor, who also told me that awareness of one’s self-ignorance was maybe the quality he admired the most in a scientist, as knowing the limits of one’s own knowledge, should figure as the most important element in this kind of mindset, which must always work more closely with doubt than certainty.

By the way, if I’ve ever seen ignorance of one’s own knowledge in abundance, it’s in politicians. What’s more, they seem to deliberately ignore these limits, except in very rare cases. I have seen this in both dictatorships and democracies, people who have no skill whatsoever entering the political world and yet, still managing to build a successful career as: assembly members, city councilors, mayors and even president.

It’s worth explaining to ignorant voters the fact that there are fundamental ethics that must be demanded from every politician and should make it less than impossible to elect someone who doesn’t observe them.

How can you identify the limits of your own knowledge? You need a strong capacity for introspection where you can gain awareness of your limitations without anesthesia. Whether that’s to gain professional or personal insight, learning to locate your own shortcomings so it is then be easier to know how we can map our life expectations. So they help us reach our objectives and not become the obstacle that eats away at us, because we don’t know ourselves, which might even be the best version of ourselves.

Building a life when we are sure of our limitations, when we no longer doubt, will reduce setbacks and problems that are sometimes the result of social conditions rather than personal choice.

I have seen people give into family, or social, pressure and study something that they don’t love, or even, marry and form a family when they haven’t adapted their behavior to the rigors this decision calls for, which will always leave people feeling a lot of frustration and the heavy feeling of regret when there isn’t a lot of room to change things.

Knowing what I don’t know won’t make life any easier, or a lot happier, but it will become a lot more bearable, as this personal wisdom will save me from bad plans in trying to reach my life goals, which almost always happen, inevitably leading me to the wrong place and people, with the heavy weighing on the heart that ensues because feelings haven’t been put in line with real possibilities.

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Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.

Alfredo Fernandez has 177 posts and counting. See all posts by Alfredo Fernandez

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Learning What I Don’t Know

  • I recommend Timothy Wu ” The Merchants of Attention ” for an introspection of how mass organizations manipulate our likes and dislikes. It is a gut wrenching read.

  • No matter how old you are, if the day comes that you no longer learn, then you are truly redundant.

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