Years ago I came upon a quote posted in a colleague’s office that has stuck with me and made a profound impact on how I do life and therapy. It was by the noted psychologist, Carl Jung, and went something like this: “Ignorance is never a recommendation, but sometimes the best knowledge is not enough. To the psychotherapist, I recommend beginning each day with the understanding that everything has yet to be learned.”
As a psychologist with 16 years of practice in Orange county and many years of education behind me, there is the temptation to rely on years of “knowledge” and skip over the complexity and beauty encompassed in each individual. I certainly don’t claim to be ignorant, but I find more and more the rewards that come from persistent curiosity and a willingness to be wrong.
Of course, this all translates to everyday relationships as well, but how many walk through life and relationships with wide-eyed curiosity and an admission that everything they know is subject to revision? That takes intentional effort and is so uncomfortable and inconvenient as you pass a homeless person on the street, see a couple arguing, or watch a parent ignore their child at the park. Do you wonder what the story is behind that scene and the people involved?
I was sitting at In and Out the other day getting dinner with my kids and couldn’t help but be amazed when I stopped and looked around at all the different people eating there. I wondered out loud with my kids, “I wonder what their story is: what kind of a day all these people have had and where they’re going to be later?” Are you open to knowing the real story that goes with others, or do you have your convenient foregone conclusions that “protect” you in the world as you have made it? How about with friends and loved ones. When was the last time you listened to them? I mean REALLY listened. Not just to their words, but to the person present in front of you.
Hold tightly to your preconceived notions of people and the world and you will grind along unhappily as conflicting evidence requires you to narrow your existence into the smallest of corners. Or, boldly confess that everything may yet be learned, and re-learned, and be rewarded by the wonder and richness of living and relationships.