My birthday is coming up in a couple of months and at this time each year I become a little reflective. I think about what I know today that I didn’t know last year, or a few years ago.
A lot of what I now know came to me through decisions made in tough moments and accidents that were not expected. Other revelations arrived through subtle moments. Reading a book. Watching the news.
Then there are things that I know, and that I know you know, that have come to us in specific moments of time that are hard to pin down. Our minds are powerful machines but not perfect and we often trick ourselves into thinking that we know everything. We don’t. What we understand will never be greater than what we don’t understand.
As I approach my fortieth birthday, I am realizing that the last few years of life experiences, of new knowledge, have taught me most about people and why people are important. People that are close to me and people that I may have met only once in my life. People that I see in my community but that I have never formally met. People that I don’t know yet but that I will get to encounter in the future.
Beyond our knowledge of politics and world events. More important than our understanding of electronics, and how to do something physically. Greater than the information we learn in textbooks and in historical documents. We need to understand people.
I’ve tried to do that in my life work. In what I do in the office and in the community. I don’t always do it well. Sometimes I cut people short. I don’t give them the time they deserve. There are conversations where I do more talking than listening. In weak moments, I have made interactions with people about me and not about them.
And yet, as I think about what I have learned in my most recent years, it has been that people teach me more than any source of knowledge. When I do listen, and mostly when I don’t say a word, I learn about life, about passions, about lessons learned.
The person down the street that I wave hello to but have never stopped to get to know: he taught me…