Not Knowing

July 2, 2010 Leave a comment

|Photo by Sam Ilic||

I shared the following Wislawa Szymborska poem with faculty in an academic department at a university with whom I was working this week.  We read it as we were about to launch our final day of discussions about collaborative leadership and team building.

A Note

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
and to keep on not knowing
something important.

The final two lines are what led me to select the poem.  In an academic setting we are often prone to privilege and give power to what we know.  The same goes for leadership in many cases.  And yet there is also tremendous power in what we do not know.  Being comfortable with uncertainty and the unknown can keep us honest, fuel curiosity and creativity, help us turn more readily to others for support, and (in the spirit of the upcoming holiday) set us free.  It can help us to embrace a “growth mindset” with an orientation towards improving instead of driving to prove ourselves.  As we like to say with respect to the practice of facilitation:

It’s not knowing what to do that counts, it’s knowing          what to do when you don’t know what to do.

This connects with Linda’s post about staying with conflict, but also with any situation where our first impulse is to impulsively drive towards an answer.  A key question for me then is “When is it of service to not know something important?”  How would you answer the question?  And how have you made peace with not knowing?

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  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    This reminds me of part of a meditation offered by Danny Martin, a dialogue practitioner and friend of IISC. “What if everything you knew were not true?” Sometimes, in order to co-create meaning, it is of service not to know something important, or at least to suspend what we think we know in order to pursue a deeper understanding.

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