Being curious and willing to learn is most useful


curious-and-willing-to-learn

The simple statement “I know!” coupled with arrogance is probably the least important and least useful attitude to have at any time. That is because, this “I know it already” attitude blocks other perspectives from coming in. And listening to another perspective, if nothing else, could lead to a better understanding of what one already knows. A better understanding means that one now knows a little more than what one thought they knew. So, in that sense, what one thought one knew before was not complete. So, even when one is completely convinced that what they know is all there is to know, the truth most probably is that they do not know everything there is about that subject. Simply put, I might know more about something than others, and that does not mean that I know everything there is to know. So, when I say, “I know,” is that really true? And more importantly, is that useful?

“I already know” acts like a door that prevents anything new from coming in. It does not allow new thinking, views and thoughts to enter. And the Dalai Lama, says it beautifully, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Regardless of anything that one believes their knowledge to be, it is important to stay curious and willing to learn. A little more on that, and how having this attitude might be very useful, in this article. And both the “for and against” are being listed out.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – The Dalai Lama

In the iconic Thamizh movie, and one of my personal favourites, “Thillu Mullu” (starring the one and only Rajinikanth, and directed by his mentor K.Balachander) there is a scene of an interview. Incidentally, this movie is the remake of the very popular Hindi movie, Gol Maal, starring Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt. In this particular scene, Rajinikanth (as A A K Chandran – or Ayyampettai Arivudainambi Kaliaperumal Chandran) is being interviewed for a job by “Thengai” (Coconut) Srinivasan, who plays “Sriramachandramurthy,” a very strict business owner, with some fixed views on many subjects. Let this not become a review of the movie. (Another aside is that this is probably a movie I have watched the most number of times; I won’t mention the number though! J)

In this particular scene, Chandran tells Sriramachandramurthy, the interviewer, “Sir, my father has told me this – In this world there is none who is superior to you; so you do not need to feel that you are less than anyone else. Similarly, there is none in the world who is inferior to you – so never ever think less of anyone else. This is what my father has taught me, and this to me is the gospel.”

In this world there is none who is superior to you; so you do not need to feel that you are less than anyone else. Similarly, there is none in the world who is inferior to you – so never ever think less of anyone else.

To me personally, in many ways, this has been the way to be. Respect each and every person the same way. Of course, there are always some who have made a deeper impression or a greater contribution, and these people will always have a special place in my heart. These are people I remember with the greatest gratitude and affection – my parents, my gurus, and those who have contributed to making my life better.

And this “equality of all beings” is the truth. Each and every one of us, and each and every being on this planet is equal. Each knows something that the other might not. Take the example of someone who is not financially well off, and looking to survive from taking alms ( am intentionally not using the term “beggar”.) This person knows something I might not – that of abject poverty, and constantly living with hunger for food. I do not know that! So, there exists someone who knows something I do not. And so on, there are countless others who know something I do not, and I might know something they do not. Net result, we all know about the same level of knowledge as one another. None greater, better than another. All beings equal.

Each and every one of us, and each and every being on this planet is equal. Net result, we all know about the same level of knowledge as one another. None greater, better than another. All beings equal.

And therefore, it is always useful to believe that there is still a Universe of knowledge (pun intended) that one does not know, and yet has access to. There are so many things in the Universe that we do not know. Albert Einstein said, “We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.” The operative part of that answer from Einstein is “what nature has revealed to us.” With all the advances in technology, ability to access remote areas, we still come across news that there is a new species that has been found, or some hitherto unknown knowledge being discovered.

Albert Einstein said, “We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.”

It would therefore be appropriate to conclude that all of humankind knows very little collectively, and there is probably infinitely more knowledge to be accessed and yet to be known. And  hence, the most useful approach that any individual human can adopt is probably, “I know very little, if anything at all.” And with that sobering thought always being at the forefront of one’s thinking and action, remain humble and be willing to learn more.

Even in the aspects of knowledge that one might have a fair degree of expertise in, it is useful for one to be “open” to the “possibility” that one “might” have less than 100% of all knowledge there is to know about that particular subject, and that there is something that one does not know. Many a time this belief that one knows everything there is to know about something becomes a big obstacle to their getting a better understanding about the subject. And it manifests itself in many ways, mostly not very useful.

It might be observed that sometimes each and every one of us comes across people and situations wherein the other(s) refuse to accept any data or points of view that are put forth. And even in the face of extremely powerful and clear data, stick to their stands. There are two parts to this. One, that if it is really important to the person, they ought to “inspire” the other with their views, logic and so on. Two, that the other(s) are fixated and refuse to accept facts and data, however convincing they might be.

Leo Tolstoy said, “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” Many a time, people end up being too invested in any concept, idea or construct. This is one of the not useful outcomes of “I know, and there is no other way, or more knowledge in this area!”

Cognitive Dissonance

I came across a talk by Ash Donaldson on Cognitive Dissonance on TEDx a while ago – the talk is available on YouTube. He makes a very persuasive case for Cognitive Dissonance and even what the reasons for its occurrence are. However, when I listened to the talk a few more times, I became aware of one thing – that he himself had a fair dose of Cognitive Dissonance, and was adhering to what he thought was the “truth.” And like the saying goes, there are multiple personal versions of “the truth” and then there IS “THE TRUTH!”

There are multiple personal versions of “the truth” and then there IS “THE TRUTH!”

Cognitive dissonance is oftentimes explained as the mental stress (discomfort) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, when performing an action that contradicts those beliefs, ideas, and values; or when confronted with new information that contradicts existing beliefs, ideas, and values.

This probably results because individuals seek consistency among their “cognitions” i.e., values, beliefs, opinions, etc. And if there is a perceived inconsistency i.e., “dissonance,” between attitudes and behaviours, they might seek to change to eliminate the dissonance. In the case of a difference between attitudes and behaviour, in most cases, it is likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behaviour.

In the case of a difference between attitudes and behaviour, in most cases, it is likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behaviour.

A person normally attaches a great deal of importance to a value, belief, or opinion. They might also have a fair number of values, beliefs, and opinions that sometimes conflict with one another.  And hence, chances exist that there might be a greater degree of dissonance. This might by itself cause some dissonance to you, the reader! One might be left to thinking that I am opining that having values and beliefs is not useful. Not at all. Having useful and enabling beliefs and values are always useful, otherwise not. And constantly inquiring in to one’s existing beliefs and values, is useful. And, let me explain my thoughts on a this a little more.

Every person has their own set of values & beliefs. It might be that they are truly happy when they have adhered to their own set of values and achieved what they wanted to.  Achieving something through a compromise of their own values, makes that achievement not very savoury. An aside, it might be worthwhile to think about is how clear one is about their own personal values and, do they know when their values are conflicted? And more importantly, are they living in alignment to their own values? This can make all the difference to living a fulfilled life! And that is the subject of another article – and let me stick in this article to the knitting of Values, Beliefs, Dissonance and Knowledge.

A good starting point could be in understanding what a “value,” “belief,” and “attitude” is. There are many meanings that could be attributed to these words, and in the concept of a personal value system, it could mean that these are the operating principles that guide an individual in their actions! Most people refer to beliefs and values, and many times, interchangeably, as though they are the one and the same. Well, if we peeled the layers a bit, we might be surprised. This is another area where what one thought they knew, might turn out to be less than correct.

According to Dr Alan Watkins, in his book, Coherence, he explains “values” thus:

“A value is a feeling or quality that is defined by a thought or a principle”

So, with a VALUE, I feel something when the value is adhered to, and something else when it is not. I feel it, and then to explain it to others, and maybe to myself, I use thoughts and words. It is a “feeling” that one feels, and to explain it to others, and to help them replicate that same feeling, a combination of words is needed. This does not mean that the other feels the same when they listen to the explanation. They might agree with the words and thoughts, and yet their experience is their own, and need not be the exact same. For example, most people will agree that “integrity” is an important value. However, what each feels when they believe they have been in integrity might be very different from what another feels. (And yes, upon reading this, it could be confusing at first. I suggest reading this passage again. After all, I am attempting to do the same thing that this passage refers to – convey my thoughts and experiences to help create the same experience in you, the reader!)

You might be thinking that this is the same with a “Belief!” To clarify the difference with a “Belief”, Dr. Watkins states further,

“A belief is the opposite of a value, in that a belief is a thought or idea that is powered by emotion.”

Dr. Watkins, explains it further thus: “So for example two people may have the thought: ‘Women should stay in the home.’ For one it’s a really emotive issue and that person expresses the view vocally and passionately. That’s a powerful belief because the emotion that is driving it is powerful. The second person may also have that thought but is not emotionally attached to it; there is no energy around that belief, so it’s either a very weak belief or it’s not a belief at all, depending on the intensity of the emotion. It’s the same thought in both cases, but what alters the intensity in each person is the emotional charge that wraps around the thought and converts it into a belief. Both values and beliefs represent an evolution of complexity. Thoughts and feelings are quite easy to change but when they are combined to create values and beliefs they are harder to change.”

“Both values and beliefs represent an evolution of complexity. Thoughts and feelings are quite easy to change but when they are combined to create values and beliefs they are harder to change.” – Dr. Alan Watkins, Coherence

So, in many ways, a belief is a concept that I am quite invested in and then find ways of explaining (or justifying) it to myself and to others. And beliefs could be formed or inherited. First hand beliefs are those that I create from my own life experiences. Second hand beliefs that I inherit from those who have an influence on my life – parents, elders, teachers, friends, and so on. Third hand beliefs are those that I get from socio-economic, geographic, cultural and religious influences. And so the list goes on – and in fact beliefs could be handed down over the ages, a thousand or even a million times! So, my beliefs might not be my own! In fact, I am of the firm opinion that all beliefs are second, third, fourth or maybe even millionth hand. And yet, one gets so invested in them that they are willing to take their own, or others; lives for the sake of these beliefs. And yes, this is MY current belief.

And the many beliefs and values that one has, creates the person’s attitude. Dr. Watkins says, “A person’s attitude is a collection of values and beliefs that determine the way an individual sees things, thinks, reacts and behaves. Attitudes represent a cluster of values and beliefs and as such they are more complex and sophisticated than a value or a belief, and therefore they are even harder to change.”

Contrast that with values which are formed entirely by myself. While there are “family” and “societal” values, that exist, I need to embrace them for myself. And in that sense, the feeling that I feel, is MY own. And the words that I use to explain that feeling of being aligned with my values, are most probably a poor substitute to explain what it is that I feel, when my values are adhered to, or not. Beliefs are always borrowed, and values are a person’s own! And the combination creates their attitude.

Beliefs are always borrowed, and values are a person’s own! And the combination creates their attitude.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when there is a mismatch between two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, when performing an action that contradicts those beliefs, ideas, and values; or when confronted with new information that contradicts existing beliefs, ideas, and values.

And according to some who have researched this subject at a deeper level, there are probably 3 main ways in which this dissonance can be removed:

  • reduce the importance of the dissonant beliefs
  • add more consonant beliefs that outweigh the dissonant beliefs, or
  • change the dissonant beliefs so that they are no longer inconsistent.

Cognitive dissonance occurs most often in situations where an individual must choose between two incompatible beliefs or actions. The greatest dissonance is created when the two alternatives are equally attractive. Furthermore, attitude change is more likely in the direction of less incentive since this results in lower dissonance. In this respect, dissonance theory is contradictory to most behavioral theories which would predict greater attitude change with increased incentive (i.e., reinforcement).

Beliefs & Values influence experiences

A person’s values and beliefs have a great influence in creating their experiences in life. And in that sense, they end up creating an individual’s reality or what they perceive to be “truth.” It is another matter altogether that “the truth” might be far removed from their perception of it. Their reality continues to be the same and coupled with “cognitive dissonance” might end up creating situations that are not useful at all.

For example, all manner of “hate” is created through this process. Regardless of the “reason” for hating something, it will be clear that the reason for the hate is how invested one is, in their manner of thinking, believing and hence, acting. The stronger the investment, the greater the sense of “I am right!” and along with the “I am right,” underlying and not often stated is “YOU are definitely wrong!” This leads to disagreement and clashes everywhere – between 2 human beings and their thinking, which then spreads to become a disagreement and clash between communities, politics, nations, religions and the like.

And in the life of an individual, these apply to all aspects of life. From students who learn, to teachers who teach, to the workplace and even with regard to what a person might think that they know about another. This attitude of “I know” might be something that comes in the way of relationships even.

I probably don’t know – is the best attitude, for learning, and for life!

“I do not know everything” is the best attitude to have to ensure happiness for oneself and for those around. “How does that help?” may be the question in your mind.

Simple! When one adopts a “I don’t know everything, and I am willing to learn” thinking, one is

  • not certain what the others are going through
  • not jumping to conclusions about what others are thinking, feeling or experiencing
  • willing to understand and learn
  • with an open mind to another’s experience

It is therefore very useful to stay curious constantly, question even existing values and beliefs to see if they are relevant in the context and useful for the greatest good.

It is therefore very useful to stay curious constantly, question even existing values and beliefs to check if they are relevant in the context and useful for the greatest good. And constant questioning and being willing to learn helps remove beliefs and attitudes that are not useful. And further helps those useful beliefs and values, become more rooted, for one to have a better understanding of the underlying concepts, and hence use them for the greater good. And being curious and willing to learn leads to one becoming better than they were a moment ago. And in that, coming to the constant theme of my messages, “I love and accept myself exactly as I am,” and “I grow from being perfect, to being perfect!” Stay happy, stay blessed, stay safe!

 

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