and the answer is …

Chad and Eric picked me up from the airport as I returned from North Carolina after a few days with my brother and his family.  On the way back, we stopped for lunch.  During the conversation, Eric commented that he and Chad had held much different views from each other back when they’d been in high school together, but that they were becoming more and more like-minded over time.  One has to wonder, how did this happen?

Did they argue one another into agreement on specific issues?

Did one of them switch political parties, swayed by a particularly persuasive Sociology professor?

Did they change to win the affections of girls who happened to share more similar views on things?

In fact, Eric’s answer was one I greeted with an enthusiastic “hear hear!”  They were becoming more similar because they were realizing more and more how much they didn’t know.  Beyond this, they were willing to admit that they didn’t know what they didn’t know.  And that was erasing the lines previous drawn by standing firmly on what they’d thought they knew for certain only a few years prior.

Some guys will tell you that, when they were a kid, they pulled the legs or wings off of bugs.  Some might even admit to having combined firecrackers and bullfrogs.  I have a confession of my own to make.

I killed a cat.

It’s true.  When I was in college, I killed a cat.  I not only killed it, it was messy.  As others watched on, I bashed its head in with a shovel.  Several times, in fact, before the deed was done.  I wish the whole ordeal had never happened.  But I’m afraid it did.

I’ve confessed this to my closest friends.  And even those who know me best were incredulous when I told them.  I saw flashes of doubt in their eyes.  Is my best friend really a psychopath?  They just couldn’t believe that I had ever been the type of person who would do such a thing.  But I had to accept that I was the type of person who would do such a thing.  Because I did such a thing.  With my very own hands.

What do you think of me now?  Do you interpret all of my thoughts and advice differently in light of what I’ve revealed here?  Are you incensed?  Does your stomach churn with disgust?  Or have you perhaps granted that I’ve honestly changed my ways and don’t have it in me to do such a thing anymore?

The truth is, I would likely do it again today.

You see, the cat had been hit by a car.  Several, actually.  I’ll spare you the more vivid details, except to say that the cat was screeching, clawing wildly at the pavement with its front paws — and not going anywhere fast with the rest of its body.  Traffic was swerving in dangerous fashion.  I pulled over with a friend.  He stopped traffic while  I took a shovel out of his trunk.  And, as quickly as possible, I ended the cat’s pain.  I then used the shovel to move the cat’s body to the side of the road, so that traffic could continue safely.

“Wait,” you protest, “you tricked me!”

Did I?  Or did you simply not yet have all the details before making a judgment?

I admit, I use this story to illustrate a point.  And that is — we never  have all the details.  About anything.  Yet we go about life, feeling assured that we do know — and drawing lines with people over it.

I can truly say — with contentment and not angst — that the older I get, the less I know with surety.  I realize this sounds philosophical or pious.  Even passive.  But I mean it.  There’s a certain freedom in being able to accept that you don’t have all the answers.  That you might be mistaken.  That the big picture is infinitely bigger than you’d been willing to admit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have my beliefs, convictions and principles.  I live passionately by them.  But rather than doing quite so much “show and tell,” I’ve decided to do more “observe and listen.”  Telling says I already know all there is to know.  Listening says there may be important details I’ve missed.

It seems to me that the best answer, then, is often to ask one more question.

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About Erik

Erik is an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, noticer and lover of life. He lives in the Boston area. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

8 responses to “and the answer is …

  • grand « The Best Advice So Far

    […] first met John in a crack house.  Lest you pair this information with patchy memories of my cat story and really think I’m shady, I went into said establishment to retrieve another young man I […]

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  • Justin

    I admit, noticed the parallel between your entry about “what is right?” almost immediately. Ok, it is debatable as to what my personal opinions were growing up, but I eventually came to the conclusion that what we don’t know can change the ENTIRE scene. (I think it somehow curved my competitive nature to a healthy level?) I am sometimes sneered at for just suggesting an alternate/unlikely explanation to a given situation. Can you explain why you feel that the older you get, the less you know?

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    • Erik

      The nature of a child is to think in terms of “me” and “mine.” It’s called egocentrism. When we are egocentric, we are big and best and right, and everyone else is small and less and wrong by comparison. It stands to reason that as (if?) we outgrow that egocentric stage, we should feel the need to be right less and less, allowing other perspectives. The universe is a big and complex place. The more I see of it, the more I understand that what I previously thought was everything — is nearly nothing. Every time I find out something I didn’t know before, it reminds me that I either thought I knew — or I hadn’t even thought to think whether I knew or not! Every new universe or species under the sea is a reminder that I don’t have anything close to the whole picture. I suppose getting your eyes off of yourself is a wake-up call, where you go from seeing “my way” to seeing the endless “highway” you’d been ignoring all that time.

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