I am an avid reader. Since the day I first learned how to read, reading is one of my favorite ways to pass the time. In all of my reading days and I have some good books, and some bad books. But I’ve never had regrets about reading bad books; even those books taught me something I didn’t know…even if it was just how much determination it takes to finish a book that has you exasperated, seething with anger or board out of your skull.
I’ve got a new book to add to my list…Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s not that Astrophysics is a particular area of interest for me; I find it interesting but not fascinating. What I am a fan of is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s use of stories and narrative to illustrate deeper connections between seemingly unrelated things, and to draw fascinating conclusions from them that can be used by anyone living and breathing on this planet. Storytelling is a powerful educational tool, and Tyson has expert-level skills in this area.
See this article as an example: Five lessons about life you can learn from Astrophysics. In particular Lesson #1 seems to be the most important to me: Admit what you don’t know. How many times have you seen someone, maybe a colleague, maybe a friend, or maybe someone in your family, refuse to admit when they do not know something? It’s frustrating to watch them go from setback to setback, often of their own making because they refuse to admit that maybe they don’t know something. From the relative that everyone knows to just ignore when they start spouting conspiracy theories at the Thanksgiving table to the colleague who tanks their career trying to cover up their ignorance of a particular subject or task, learning to admit your ignorance is something that many people have not mastered.
I feel a lot of that is because there is often such a perceived risk to admitting you do not know something. Admit you don’t know how to do something at work, and people fear that they will be fired because surely someone else knows how to do it. Admit you don’t know something to your friends, and your reputation suffers. This negative image is easy to see…just trot out the old teacher’s favorite line of “There are no stupid questions” and watch the eyes roll. That eye roll tells you all you need to know about how people view ignorance.
As a pragmatist by nature, I freely admit when I do not know things because quite frankly it’s easier than trying to fake expertise in a subject you know nothing about only to have it go down in flames. Rather than go through the production and make a bigger mess than necessary, admitting what you do not know right off the bat gives you far more options and better odds to find a solution. Plus, it gives you an enormous opportunity for learning, which as a lifelong learner is almost as vital for me as breathing. Admitting when I am not familiar with something is an amazing opportunity to learn more about that thing, and to gain more knowledge.
Which of these five lessons is most important to you?
It’s a tough universe out there. Here are a few astrophysical life lessons inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson’s excellent new book, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”