We Don’t Know the Things We Don’t Know

Posted on 11th April 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

I have a rather embarrassing confession to make. Until recently, I had no idea what the phrase, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” meant.

You read me correctly. I did not understand why someone could not simultaneously have their cake and eat it until I was 30 years old. Before that I would exclaim to people, “Look!” and stick a fork into the fluffy sugary goodness, “It’s my cake, and I’m eating it!”

Those initiated into the secret society of understanding would merely shake their heads at me and walk away. No one ever bothered to try and correct me, probably because they thought I was simply being obtuse. Either that, or I was an imbecile.

Then one day, as I was happily finishing off my last bite of key-lime pie and licking my chops, it suddenly clicked. My plate was empty. There was no more cake, because I had eaten it.

This revelation did little to change my life. As the old Zen saying goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” But it did give me additional insight into the world. Another dimension was revealed in certain communications.

It also got me thinking about knowledge. How easy it is to miss little important bits of information that everyone else takes for granted. People often confuse intelligence with knowledge. Exclaiming “gotcha!” when someone they are arguing with proves ignorant of some seemingly well-known fact.

I admit I am guilty of this myself, but I have found a way to fight that false sense of superiority off and replace it with a more constructive sense of humility. Just remember an instance where you learned something that you should have learned long ago, or when someone caught you in the state of being ignorant.

For me, this is not when I figured out the “Having Cake Versus Eating Cake” paradox, but when I finally learned what a consonant was. I was in Junior High and, once again, I heard this odd word, which so many years worth of teachers had used as if I knew what it meant and so many years worth of students had nodded knowingly as if it meant something. Finally I decided to ask my younger brother about this mysterious word:

“A consonant is a letter in the alphabet that isn’t a vowel,” he said helpfully.

Ah ha! I thought, years of teachings flooding back to me, but now they made complete sense rather than partial sense. It all makes sense now! How obvious and simple!

So now, instead of stabbing my finger haughtily at an opponent and exclaiming, “How can you not know about the situation in Botswanistan!?!?” and awarding myself 1 “gotcha” point, I remind myself, You didn’t know what a consonant was. take a deep breath, and patiently explain.

We can’t know everything, and the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

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