To Know or Not to Know

I have been fascinated lately thinking about knowing versus not knowing, and the fear of knowing versus the fear of not knowing. I have experienced two types of people lately. (Sorry to break it down into just two types; I’m sure there are actually at least 50 shades of grey in between! And no, this is not a blog about that book.) What makes some people so curious and unafraid of asking questions, and others so fearful and reluctant to even ask, for fear of knowing the answer?

Warning right up front: I don’t have the answer to that question, or even a hypothesis. In fact, maybe it’s a question for all of you?

Here’s what I do know—I prefer hanging out with the curious and the people who like to know things…perhaps because they are more like me. I like to know as much as possible. I’d rather know all the details, the good and the bad, because they paint a more complete picture of something for me. Knowing, to me, leads to intimacy and understanding, and to finding the connections and the differences, that make us human.

I often play a game with myself when I meet someone new who seems very different from me. I tell myself there is a reason I am talking with this person and I’m not going to stop asking questions until I figure it out. I grew up reading Nancy Drew, so there is no mystery that seems too big or small to solve. I’m a detective of life, and we detectives need to know as much as possible. You never know when that info might come in handy.

For example, I’m glad I took the time while I was alive to ask my mother lots of questions about her youth—even personal questions—because, while at the time the answers may have been hard to hear, much later they gave me a greater understanding of what I was feeling and thinking. The older I get, the more I begin to understand some of my mother’s behaviors that, at the time, seemed downright crazy. And that builds intimacy and respect…and even forgiveness.

Knowing versus not knowing also feels relevant when it comes to our health and the environment. It seems like there are a lot of people who don’t want to know what’s in their food, or what their behaviors might do to the environment. Not until there is a massive problem will they might mobilize to solve it—usually with a temporary fix rather than a permanent one—be it finding a new drug to solve a health problem or helping to build a new house for someone whose old house got swept away in a flood. These are all important things to do, but the question is what could be prevented if we spent more time knowing and being curious up front, rather than pretending it doesn’t matter…until it truly does?

I see it all the time at work, too. Truly, the most successful people are the ones who are curious and follow the trail of a question wherever it goes, even if it’s outside their daily domain. So many people just keep their heads down and do a job and don’t question when things don’t seem right. As a result, we all lose out on knowing!

Perhaps we all need to feel a bit safe to open up to ask questions or answer them. Or do we need to ask questions in order to feel safe?

I DON’T KNOW. But I’m curious. And I’d love all your thoughts and insights into the matter.

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16 Responses to To Know or Not to Know

  1. Nikki June 18, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Upon reading your post today, I immediately thought of my experience, of course. 🙂 I’m an American married to a Swede and living in Sweden the past 23+ years. When I go back ‘home’ to visit, almost NO ONE ever asks me ANYTHING about living in Sweden. And I think of a Swedish friend who lived in Shanghai for 2 years with her husband who was on contract there. It was an amazing time for her and when they moved back to Sweden, NONE of her friends asked about her time there! It really hurt her feelings. I’m used to it by now and it doesn’t hurt my feelings any more, but… like you, it’s more fun or whatever to hang around people with a curiosity about the world! And it’s also difficult to understand those who don’t seem to be curious about much of anything. ESPECIALLY when it comes to the food they/we eat! How can you not be curious about THAT?!? How can you NOT want to know what you’re feeding your children?!? What does that say about you? Does it mean you don’t really CARE what you’re feeding your children?? I don’t know. I don’t get it. It’s not good to be judgmental about it, I guess. But… a little curiosity can go a long way! 🙂

  2. J.C. June 18, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I love to “find out” about as much as I can about everything I can.

    I never really feel, however, that i “know” anything as “knowing” changes each day. And isn’t that the exciting part of living? Each day, whether good or bad, is an adventure into the “unknown.”

    I love all kinds of people – but I take none of them at face value.
    I love to dig deep into relationships, to glimpse what is core to each soul.

    I’m not a big traveler — but I travel all the time through books.
    I never feel deprived as long as I have a good book at hand and I do agree with Dickinson that “there is no frigate like a book.”
    Books share knowledge, dreams, and wonder. So, I tend to live into this realm of “knowing.”

    To my way of thinking, “knowing” is ephemeral.. but imagination–boundless and eternal. Today, all that I know must remain in a state of flux until I get to the tomorrow side of life.

  3. maria (farm country kitchen) June 18, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Hey Nikki,

    One of my favorite questions to ask people from another country is this one: what is your favorite, most basic comfort food that you love? So…in Sweden, what is it???? And how would it be different if you lived in Norway? And did you ever see that movie Kitchen Stories??? It’s awesome.

  4. Nikki June 18, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    Hmm… my favorite Swedish food IS Swedish comfort foods! Ha. But it’s true. Husmanskost, they call it. Plain food, homely fare, it says in the dictionary. Oh boy. Favorite? Brown beans and fläsk (a thick bacon). Pea soup (yellow peas) and pancakes (crepes) w/lingonberries. Swedish meatballs w/mashed potatoes & gravy & lingon. That’s 3 favorites. All loved equally. 🙂

    I’ve visited Norway but didn’t ask that question when I was there, so, can’t answer how it would be different in Norway. Someone else can, perhaps? (Could guess there might be seafood involved.)

    I’d never, ever heard of “Kitchen Stories”!! Just watched the trailer and it looks delightful. I’ll have to see if I can get it somehow. Thanks for the tip! (My ancestry is half Norwegian.)

  5. Maya June 18, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    I think KNOWING leads to DOING which leads to all kinds of good things.

  6. Bonnie June 18, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Nikki – It is comforting to know that it isn’t just me! I was excited to share about my experiences with the social customs of other countries we had lived in, but it seemed to annoy people. I thought it was somehow my fault, or that my hometown friends didn’t like me any more! Previously I had been told I was very congenial. Odd and I have never really figured it out, but
    learned not to talk about it.

  7. Nikki June 18, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    Oh yes, Bonnie, I think it’s a completely normal reaction from ‘normal’ people. I learned early on to bring myself whole-heartedly into THEIR world (when I’m going to be with some people) and expect nothing else. So then – what comfort foods do you miss from whatever countries you lived in?

  8. jerre June 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    It seems you spoke my mind….I love knowing… about many my age [the other side of 75] it still makes life so interesting…what you put into words for me tho, is the
    “intamicy” it creates with others…thank you for that…my
    x husband…lol…always told me I asked too many questions
    some people I viewed as strange upon meeting…because of
    asking questions…exchanging views…created a trust, [intimacy
    even in our differentness] and a wonderfully close… circle of friends…but there is always room for more…so I continue
    to ASK QUESTIONS….of myself….and others to gain more insight into others souls and knowledge about this world we
    live in….

  9. Nikki June 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    By the way… there are also plenty of things I’m totally NOT curious about! But I think that’s ok. 🙂

  10. Donna in Delaware June 18, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    I’m somewhere in between wanting to know and satisfied with not knowing. It all depends. Some things I would just rather not know, but most things, especially what I consume, wear, smell, and the environment, one would be foolish not to ask and probe into deeply.

    Bonnie, I have had the same experiences. When I lived in Canada, Germany and Switzerland, or even visited other countries and tried to explain to others “back home” what it was like, most did not like what I had to say about it, especially when it came to the quality of life and health care! Nothing is perfect, but these countries seem to have the basic issues right. The food is a great reason why I travel. Wanting to know about other cultures, races, ethnic groups and customs in different countries, is, in itself, an amazing experience. I know a few people that won’t even leave their state or their own yard because they say that they are quite happy to be where they were born and raised. They said they have no need to know what goes on anywhere else, and don’t like foreigner food! How can one fight this type of ignorance? I can’t understand this. I did ask why, at that time, why they felt this way, and each said, (not at the same time, of course) it did not interest them, traveling. They didn’t even want to go to another state, much less another country!!

    My conservative friends got upset with me for praising the social systems. It doesn’t mean that we should become Socialist, I told each of them. We could learn some things from other countries socially, especially when they get it right!

    I have so many types of comfort food from other nations that I don’t know where to start. I love a dinner of raclette cheese, with small potatoes, onions, gherkins, cherry tomatoes and a nice cool Swiss beer or white wine. I adore Zuricher Geschnetletes, (try pronouncing that, if you’re not German) that’s cut veal in a wonderful creamy gravy, eaten with a crisp roesti! I’ve gotten hungry now, I think that I’ll have lunch on the deck.

  11. Donna in Delaware June 18, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    MAYA, sometimes knowing that leads to doing, isn’t always a good and positive thing! Sometimes it leads to wrongdoing by others. It’s six of one, and half dozen of the other!

  12. Donna in Delaware June 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Oh, one more thing, BONNIE, I talk about my experiences, whether they like it or not! They can leave the room if they don’t want to hear it! Fortunately, others want to hear! So, don’t stop sharing your experiences because of a few silly people, their are others out there that would love to share in your travel experiences and can learn something to boot!!!

  13. Donna in Delaware June 18, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Sorry for any spelling errors. It was not intentional.

  14. Donna in Delaware June 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    MARIA, Are you there! I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you about visiting the Brandywine Museum. Would you really like to meet up there? Maybe have coffee or tea, or even some lunch! I would love to do that! Let’s plan on it shall we? Email me and let me know. That would be so coolllllllll!!

  15. Lucy M June 19, 2012 at 12:53 am #

    Your thoughts made me think immediately of how frustrated I get when I try to explain why I am a vegetarian. Hardly anyone wants to know or is willing to know what happens in the slaughterhouse or other animal cruelty issues. They just go on turning a blind eye and I don’t understand it.

  16. Debra Henn June 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    I am also a “detective of life.”. That is why I adore you and digestive everything you say! I need to know. It’s something in my blood. I want to know so I can make MY choice. Thank you for all you do. You so empower me. XO

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