As a kid, I thought Disney was spelled DISNEP. I mean, look at that logo!
Fast forward to my 20s, around the age one comes to believe they know everything: I thought that when businesses wrote that they were “Est. 2008”, it meant that they ESTIMATED the business opened in 2008. Like, “Hmm, I don’t remember — but maybe sometime around then?”
How little I knew as a youth. But also: How little I know now. Just last week, I learned that “calliope” has four syllables, not three!
We all have blind spots, and I’m using today as a reminder that we always will, and that’s kind of great. It just means that our lives are meant for learning.
In fact, as I share my foibles, I bet you’re thinking of your own. That’s what happens every time I bring one up. Case in point: When I shared my “Disnep” mix-up on LinkedIn, I learned that a lot of people read the “D” in “Disney” as a big, backwards cursive “G.”
A few more gems from that comments section:
This one hit it out of the park:
Nikki is so right. When we look back on things we got wrong in the past, it becomes sort of a marvel that something so obvious managed to elude us. And it’s equally thrilling to realize how much more we know now that we’ve grown and experienced more of the world.
In fact, moments like the one we’re in right now — moments of great disruption — often teach us this lesson. One of the greatest versions of it happened during one of the worst outbreaks in history.
In March of 2020, as we were staring down an uncertain future, I got to wondering: How did the bubonic plague of the 1300s change how people thought?
A medieval scholar named Andrew Rabin, who makes frequent appearances on my podcast, told me a fascinating story. He said that, before the plague, the literature of the time was filled with certainty. People wrote books like Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Technologica — the sum of all theology — that were like guidebooks to a very certain world. People felt like the world was predictable and logical. They thought it followed a certain order.
Then the plague showed them otherwise. “If you live in a world that you think is basically comprehensible, this throws that all out the window,” Andrew told me. “Suddenly, we’re all wrong.”
After the plague, a new kind of literature appeared. It included works like The Canterbury Tales, portraying a big and complicated and unknowable world.
We are all the product of that shifted viewpoint. And I have to say: I’m happier that way. A knowable world is boring. If we thought we knew everything, we’d never explore. We’d never push boundaries. We’d never change. We’d never adapt.
We may be the products of what we know, but we are driven by what we do not.
I guarantee that, no matter how much we learn, there are still all sorts of things that we will continue to misunderstand. Some of those things we’ll have learned by next week. Others will take us years. But the reality is that, throughout our journey in life and understanding of the world, there will always be things we don’t know.
In a recent newsletter, I told you the story of the “Russian” submarines — how the Swedish military once thought they’d spotted advanced Russian technology in their waters, and spent a lot of time and resources trying and failing to figure it out, and then, finally, asking scientists for help, and then learning that the military was actually looking at a school of farting fish. The lesson: If we only rely on our knowledge, we are bound to look foolish (deceiving ourselves all the while).
What if, instead, every moment is an opportunity for learning? For filling in the blanks.
It’s exciting to think about: In the future, we’ll look back at this moment and think, “Oh, how little I once knew…”
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