The Sum of all Knowledge and Pi(e)

Spring and turning points…

Spring is on the way, the temperatures are starting to creep upwards as the extreme cold of a Québec winter starts to fade. The sun seems to shine more often and I can hear the sounds of melting ice when I take my dog out during the afternoon. Daylight savings is beginning and I can start dreaming about activities for long summer days – likely with the Spyder. And CoVid seems, at least for now, to have released its’ iron grip. Case counts continue to fall, hospitalizations decrease and mandates are dropping – at least in my orbit. And, as reprehensible as what is happening to innocent people in the Ukraine, my heart warms to see the outpouring of compassion.

This past week I was lucky enough to have an out of town friend drop over for dinner. I cannot tell you how excited I was to prepare a meal and sit down for an evening of great conversation. I am not quite a hermit but this was only the second time that I invited someone over since I moved to my current apartment. I talk to people every day and typically spend time with family on the weekends. Loneliness definitely does not occupy my personal space. That being said, a simple meal felt like a huge turning point.

Our conversation took all sorts of twists and turns as conversation does when friends get together. It occurred to me that we have similar interests and, in some respects, different ways of approaching things. Our frames of reference are different because we are different people with distinct experiences. One may say the opposite – I grew up in Nova Scotia and moved to the Montreal area whereas she did exactly the reverse. We spent time chatting about the last two years, current events and our mutual incomprehension of how events have led to strained and broken friendships and families. We both know of people who can no longer accept individuals in their lives because their point of views are so offensive that the only choice was to simply cut them off. I find this curious.

It brought to mind an illustration that I first saw in  Louise LeBrun’s book “Fully Alive”. She presents a diagram of a circle and asks the reader to imagine that this object represents the domain of all knowledge. So “that means everything that you now know, everything you have ever known and anything that you could ever possibly know in the future, are all contained within this circle.”  That’s a lot of stuff. 

Categories of knowledge

In the first category – “What I know that I know” are things like my address, the birthdates of my daughters, where my Spyder is stored and how to make a meal. Imagine that subset of knowledge as a very slim slice of the circle. The next slice is represent s the things that “I know that I don’t know” are things like how to manufacture paint, how to diagnose what’s going on with my dog or how to fly an airplane. I know that these things exist and that there are experts out there but I’m not one of them. I accept and welcome that others will produce paint so that I can make pictures and sit in the cockpit to take me places that I want to go.  Those categories form what we call reality or truth as they reflect our frames of reference and put the boundaries around our comfort zone.

The biggest part of this circle however, the rest of the pie, are the things that “I do not know that I do not know”. That was tough to wrap my head around the first time that I read that. It also made me consider how I collect and interpret information in a very different way. I realized that, even with the things that I do know, there are very likely gaps in my collection of facts. I’ll read and maybe watch video that someone has produced to understand a topic but I cannot know everything. So I have to understand that my point of view is not necessarily the “truth” but rather is my opinion based on what I’ve been able to gleen about the topic in question. Unless I’m an expert, all I have are my opinions. I think that the same is true for everyone.

Frame of reference and the sum of all knowledge

This realization took the pressure off – I don’t have to know everything (even if I acted like I did for parts of my life!) It also instilled a curiosity that serves me well today. I collect and observe what I can and formulate my opinions and my courses of action accordingly. If something doesn’t make sense, I ask more questions. Sometimes I can find the answers and sometimes all I can do is uncover more conflicting information and the realization that I can never know the entire truth. When that happens, I have to accept that I cannot know the absolute answers and, in good conscience, I revert to acting in accordance with my own personal values – I act so as not to impinge upon the rights of others. If the subject is important to me, I’ll likely keep talking about it and evolve my views through exploration with others. But here’s the thing, I cannot do that if I only look for information that supports what I already believe. I would never leave my comfort zone and never uncover anything new. At least new to me.

So, when I encounter someone with an opposing view – based on what they have observed and collected-  I have a magical opportunity to dig a little deeper. It’s almost never comfortable but that dive into what I don’t know that I don’t know is where the new information exists. It’s also the land of creativity, innovation, empowerment and change. My slices of reality start to expand in those exchanges if I’m brave enough to stay in the tough conversations.  Interesting to me that it appears that in our world today it is increasingly difficult to have conversations with people who hold different points of view. 

Differing opinions and Pi(e)

So – what makes an attachment to an opinion more important that a relationship with another human being? Under what circumstances are differing opinions comfortable in your world and which ones are unacceptable. How do those topics differ?

I’ve chosen to make this circle a pie which is what inspired the artwork for this episode. The idea came to me as I pondered this episode while out walking my dog. I had to laugh as I started to write out my ideas – this episode launches on March 14th – pi day! And now that I think about it, there were 3 double birthdays in one of my high school math classes. We had 2 sets of twins and one student who had the same birthday as our math teacher – both on March 14th. So Happy Birthday Patti and David!

Have an awesome day!

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