Saturday, August 23, 2008

The knowledge of others

I wonder if it took you as long as it took me to appreciate the knowledge of other people.

When we are children, we inherently seem to soak in knowledge wherever we find it. Watch the way that young kids soak up the knowledge of others when it comes to their hobbies, for example.

They are not afraid to learn, and not afraid to show that they don't know something (except when it's in the classroom, of course, where lack of competence can be lambasted).

As we move into adolescence, we begin to realise that not everything someone else tells is true, actually is. We become sceptical, maybe even cynical.

We become protective of our own knowledge and how we gain it, and sometimes (often?) reluctant to show others that we don't know.

Many adults become fossilised in this place, and insist on keeping the appearance of having it all together. There's only one problem with this: it keeps you from being a lifelong learner. This is a form of impoverishment.

I've only been in my new field of work for seven and a half months. And almost every day brings with it new learning. Whenever I meet with a new client, I typically open with one or two questions, and then I sit back and learn.

Sure, I'm getting some sense of where our business might overlap with theirs. But there's more to it than that; there's a real exchange of knowledge that takes place. I've got my 'L' plates on, and I want to learn.

I recently sat with a client who graciously gave me a copy of the two volumes that make up his street tree master plan. I hope he realises how much I appreciate that gift.

It is full of rich insights, not only into his particular municipality, but into the nature of trees and the social and environmental role they play.

I've picked over it here-and-there since I got it, but being bed-ridden with the flu seemed the perfect opportunity to begin a more systematic approach to reading his work. And I am the richer for it.

When other people share their knowledge, I want to be an open ear - and a discerning mind. There is much to be gained from choosing to say, "I don't know - please teach me."

I hope I never forget the advice that a friend told me her mother once shared with her: never be afraid to put up your hand and ask questions. It's okay to learn from other people.

We might feel stupid asking, but I'd rather appear stupid and curious than deliberately ignorant because of pride.

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