We only grasp a small amount of this world. This is well known, and it gives us a great sense of humility. Every decision that we will make in our life is based on our limited ability to observe and understand the world. This is an indisputable fact, yet harsh judgments among people and institutions occur on a regular basis. Confusion becomes frustration when we observe with judgment.
Historically, judgment has been a pillar of the scientific process. When people present new ideas they are often met with shame and rejection. Einstein was not immune to judgment. At the end of his life many scientists believed Einstein to be out of touch with reality. Amazingly, decades later we are only beginning to grasp that some of his theories may be correct.
There will always be unknowns in this world. Disturbingly, there will also be unknown unknowns. The unknown unknowns are the questions that we don’t even know to ask. Unknown unknowns are not on our radar.
How can we answer the questions that we don’t even know to ask?
The answer begins within us. We cannot both judge and understand something at the same time. When we judge something, we place our prejudice upon it. When we judge something, we compare it to how we believe it should be.
What if instead of judging something we observed it with the desire to understand?
Within each of us there is a battle between the desire to be understood and the desire to understand. When our desire to be understood overcomes our desire to understand our ego wins and we learn nothing. The armor against ego is humility and curiosity. These virtues seed the courage that is necessary to ask questions that will likely be met with judgment.
Knowledge and truth can come from many sources. It can come from academia and from kitchen table wisdom. It can come from a clinical study and from the life lessons of a mother. In order to decide if knowledge has value, we must observe it without judgment. If we are to advance the culture of medicine, we must be humble, curious, courageous, and we must be kind.
Can you evoke the courage to ask complex questions with a humble heart and an open mind?