the terrible shame of not knowing

One thing I've found, beyond all else, stands in the way of personal progress. (It's one of the first things touched on in the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch. (Az K'Namer)) It is the fear of being nothing. This is most often expressed as the fear of being foolish. We fear losing face, or seeming stupid, or opening our mouths and proving our ignorance. The aforementioned aphorism, "It is better to appear foolish than to open your mouth and prove yourself to be so," is preventing us all from tremendous learning. Each day we waste gaining so much potential knowledge for fear of letting anyone know we lack it. Sure, the wiser among us say they will readily admit they know nothing. But that doesn't mean that if you tell them something they will believe you. Why not? What have they to lose? If they know they know nothing, why not learn whatever it is you will teach? What knowledge do they pretend not to have that informs their decision not to take your words to heart? Ours and theirs is the fear of knowing something wrong.

So, there is wrong knowledge? bad knowledge? There's actually a tree where this bad knowledge comes from. The good knowledge comes from the same tree. In fact, when we ate from that tree we ate from it because we feared there might be something we didn't know. It's not surprising then, that we fear tasting any new knowledge. But worse, we know there's so much out there that we don't know. We know that everyone around us might know something we don't. We live in paralysing fear of being the only one who doesn't know something, or the only one who is misinformed.

Stop it.

Throw it away, this useless fear. There's plenty you do know. There's plenty you don't. Most of the things you know you take them to be so mundane, so obvious, that you don't even value your own knowledge. Most of the other things you think you know are wrong, certainly some, if not all, of the time. When you don't know something, ask first. When you give someone else respect by deferring to their knowledge, you both win. When you know something, share it with respect, suggesting it in a way that the other person doesn't have to confront their lack of knowledge. Eliminate this stupid blinding fear and let's all start learning from one another.

It is ironic that the word used to describe the snake, the serpent, as cunning--arom is the exact same word used to describe man's nakedness both before and after the sin. What is the only difference after the sin? Man is embarrassed because he's naked. Before the sin he was naked and unabashed. You are you, in all of your knowledge and ignorance. Don't let the embarrassment stop you from sharing what you do know and learning what you don't. Otherwise you are condemning us all to the same ignorant fate.

I know you're stupid. I'm stupid too. But, I have something to teach you, and you have something to teach me. The story of The Sophisticate and the Simpleton by Rebbe Nachman speaks to this klipah. As does the 'Uncle Moishe' niggun to V'Ahavta L'rei'acha. I've never heard a higher niggun. (If someone knows who wrote that niggun, I would love to find out.. see? I'm stupid, someone has something to teach me.)

[I don't normally spellcheck, but this post I think I actually misspelled 'embarrassment' a number of times and I'm not spellchecking it davka. To happily show my own ignorance. If it turns out that I spelled it right, know that I felt the fear of spelling it wrong and looking stupid. It's time to for us all to refuse to feel stupid for not knowing things. (And instead of revelling in our ignorance, let's start actually learning.)]


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