The beauty of not knowing what you don't know


The books on my reading list have changed lately. I now have titles like “The New Practical Navigator being an Epitome of Navigation containing the different methods of working the Lunar Observations and all The Requisite Tables.” Yes, that is the title.

Other titles on my recently changing book list include “Travels of Jeremy Church,” “Letters from the South,” and “What to Observe.”

What these books have in common is that the oldest one was published in 1796 and the newest one is 1845! Also, each book gives guidance or tells about the journeys and discoveries of explorers.

I decided to go back in time reading original texts of Great Explorers after visiting an antiquarian bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan by the name of Redux Books. Clarence, the proprietor, understands a good book. When I visited the store for the first time last summer, I asked, “Do you have any books on exploration?” He had a couple from the 1800s that were intriguing. I bought them.

When I visited Redux again last fall, Clarence pulled out his hidden treasure trove of exploration books. Clarence is a connoisseur of great books. As you will find in all great antiquarian bookstores, there are the displayed books on the public shelves. And then there are the really great ones reserved and shown only to connoisseurs who will cherish them.

Here’s what I’m noting about the Great Explorers as I read these original texts. I am seeing men who recognize that they don’t know everything. That’s right, I see men asking for directions.

Here’s the important part. They acknowledge a world of order and design that is beyond them, awaiting discovery. They aren’t ill at ease acknowledging what they do not know. They embrace the beauty of not knowing what they don’t know.

In the world of exploration before 1900 it was acceptable to admit what one didn’t know. Furthermore, it was acceptable for this to be the driver in learning about what was beyond. This spirit of exploration and discovery was the motivation for people to go into the wilderness to places that they did not know. It was the inspiration for inventors to create and experiment. In each of these areas the understanding was clear, there was something beyond the here and now. And in the case of the spiritual, also something beyond the physical, yet still a part of this world, even though it is unseen and mysterious.

Exploration is as much of a mindset is it as it is as a methodology. When a person is willing to admit that there are things they don’t know, and when they allow curiosity to drive them to discover, their imagination opens up to possibilities that they would have never considered before.

For these reasons there is a role for exploration today. It is up to each of us to learn about the unknowns and use our curiosity to discover possibilities and potential in our lives, in our businesses and in our world.


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