The power of not knowing all
So many times I attended workshops where I had some prior knowledge, with the attitude: “I doubt that I can learn anything new!”. So many times I dismissed the arguments of political opponents before I even heard them! And so often I thought I knew better than my co-workers, friends and family members… Was I right in my assumptions? Of course I was!
I see the world through my individual glasses. My glasses have been designed by millions of years of evolution. The lenses are sharpened based on the culture I grew up in. The frames are designed based on my family circumstances. And the shackles are bent according to my individual experiences and life choices. My mind operates through the concepts of confirmation bias and self-fulfilling prophecies.
The mind’s capacity to receive information from the environment is extremely limited. Of the electromagnetic radiation that surrounds us, the human eye can perceive only a fraction. Some animals can see ultraviolet light and others infrared light. They see a different reality. Our nervous system receives 11 million bits of information per second through our senses. Out of this, our conscious self can process about 50 bits per second. So we only see a small fraction of the objective reality that exists outside of us.
The culture we grow up in consists of norms and expectations, opportunities and obligations. Which acts are rewarded and which are punished? What is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour? What is normal and abnormal? We are marinated in a dense context of meaning-making web of schemas that shapes our view of reality and we take it for granted without questioning.
You may ask if there is an objective reality? Yes, there is. Physical phenomena exist whether I am aware of them or not. However, no human can describe this reality. It is filtered by the physical limitations of our sense organs, the information capacity of our consciousness, our cultural imprint and our private, subjective perception of reality. What I perceive as reality has thus passed several layers. I do not experience the objective reality, I am a co-creator of my own subjective reality. Many of our personal perceptions of reality have connection points with each other, but sometimes they are almost completely missing. For example, listen to political opponents who describe the same event – sometimes it’s like they can’t agree on anything.
Another challenge is how our memories work. Each time we recall something, we add and subtract information that did not exist in the original event. Our memories differ both between people and also within the same person over time.
And as I wrote in my previous blog post (“Our biased mind”), our minds are biased. Through the evolution of thousands of generations, the brain has evolved to ensure that my genome is spread to the next generation. The brain is designed in an environment where dangers lurk everywhere. A mistake could mean the end for both myself and my line of development. My brain is not primarily focused on meaning making, happiness and well-being. These conditions are possible by-products of my brain’s quest to pass on my genes to the next generation.
Limitations of our brain
Awareness of the limitations of our brain is a great help when we learn new things and when we want to get along with each other. If I just follow my brain’s agenda, it will set hooks for me, both in my learning and in collaboration with others. If I know better than others – if I am right and they are wrong – there is only one possible scenario: they are supposed to learn from me and ought to be influenced by my values. I can not learn anything from them and, least of all, let myself be influenced by their values. If others do not agree with me, I think that this indicates some kind of shortcoming. If they are not deceived, naive or stupid, they must be evil, selfish or unempathic! Why else would they oppose my superior ideas?
Can you stay curious and open?
Ask yourself how you would react if you met someone who thinks that he or she knows better than you and who thinks that you should exchange your values for his or hers? How fun would it be to hang out with this person? How likely is it that you would like to collaborate with such a person? Is it possible to create sustainable change when people are not open to influence?
Next time you take a training course or come across someone who thinks differently, try putting on other glasses. What happens if you are curious and open? Maybe you will learn something new? Maybe you get in touch with someone who after a while becomes curious about why you think the way you do?
Interested in learning more? Join our new workshop series consisting of four parts (choose whichever part you like!):
- Part 1. The power of not knowing all (evolution of our brain, how we receive the world, observations, feelings and needs) – 21 October 2021
- Part 2. Radical responsibility (self-empathy) – 18 November 2021
- Part 3. Re:active lab (empathy) – 16 December 2021
- Part 4. Honest high-jumpers (expressing your honesty with ease) – 13 January 2022
CNVC Certified Trainer, Sweden
I am a communication consultant and a certified CNVC trainer. I work with groups and individuals who want to be able to communicate better and build sustainable connections in their family, with their friends, at their workplace and in the bigger community. I am offering lectures, workshops, mediation and individual training both for individuals and for organizations. Anything from shorter presentations to several days or weeks of training. Since 2010 I have offered over 100 lectures and workshops with inspiration from NVC (Nonviolent Communication). I have attended three one year programs organised by Friare Liv (Liv Larsson and Kay Rung): the Year 1, the Year 2 and the Mediation program. I have been assistant trainer on five of Friare Livs one year programs as well as on several of their shorter workshops.