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.