Love a horse and talk to plumbers. Ask questions of everybody and don’t hide your ignorance, for ignorance is simply the unlit side of curiosity and the outside of the door to wisdom and knowledge. Be a limitless person to others and maybe you will stretch them more than your art does. Let’s hope.
— Harold Best’s letter to artists
I read this quote last week and it has swiftly made its way onto my desktop at work. I don’t quite know what the horses and plumbers bit means and as I rarely encounter either in my daily life, I think I’ll just have to park that instruction for now. It’s the rest of the quote that gives me pause for thought “… ignorance is simply the unlit side of curiosity and the outside of the door to wisdom and knowledge …”
When I became a Christian, I was forced to confront the fact that I didn’t know anything. Maybe for most 15-year-olds this wouldn’t have been a startling or particularly troubling revelation but for me it was.
But it was also liberating.
Going through secondary school, I was a little socially awkward. But I was so responsible, I always did my homework, I generally knew what we were supposed to know. So people would come to me for help. Initially just for help, but gradually to copy. There’d be times when I’d get to lunchtime and the only conversations I’d have had with my classmates would be them asking to copy my homework.
Before long, my identity, my sense of self and my value got completely caught up in my ability to do the homework and know the answers. So joining a church youth group, where everyone else had 15 years of Sunday school and Bible reading and Christian parents, was a bit of a shock to the system.
But it gave me the freedom Not To Know. The freedom to be ignorant and to ask questions.
It shook my sense of identity but unpicked my perceptions about identity and self. I learnt to define myself and my worth in a completely new way. I’ve actually got quite good at asking questions and it’s now something that I use as much as I can at work and in friendships. Asking questions has deepened relationships, given someone the confidence that they do know the answer and changed the course of a study.
But most of all, asking questions reminds me that sometimes a question can be as valuable and have as great an impact as the wisest of answers.
And that I don’t know everything.
Like I said, it was liberating.