Knowing

Well, there’s ten bucks I’ll never see again. 

In an effort to shallow up the depths of my ignorance, I bought a book titled, “The Complete Guide to Building with Rocks and Stones.” 

The second chapter was about the tools you might need to use, complete with explanations and pictures. 

Tools such as hammers, crowbars and shovels. 

I’m not trying to be a killjoy here, but if you’re going to build something out of stone and need to see a picture of a shovel, along with an explanation of what it does, perhaps you need to adjust your goals, or at least your timeline. 

Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve reached the age of maturity without knowing how a shovel works, kudos to you. There have been many times in my life when I’ve picked up a shovel or a pitchfork, sighed deeply, and wished I didn’t know how it worked. 

I do feel a little better about my knowledge base for my current project. While it’s a common saying that you don’t know what you don’t know, sometimes you should give yourself credit for the things you don’t know you know. 

Before I opened my café (which is a longer story than you'd be willing to read), people would ask me what I knew about running a restaurant and I’d say, “Nothing.” 

But I’d forgotten the years we lost a fortune running a barbecued catering business, or when we spent a decade as youth leaders in our church regularly serving fundraising dinners with a group of teenagers as staff, or the intense months I spent when I was twenty working as a dishwasher/janitor/ errand boy in a steakhouse where I earned very little money but learned a lot from watching food professionals at work. None of those experiences fully prepared me for the cafe, but the foundation of knowledge I didn’t even know I had helped me screw up a little less. 

In defense of the shovel-ignorant, if you’re going to try something new it doesn’t help that there’s so much more to know, about almost everything. The average age of Nobel Prize winners has gone up almost twenty years in the past century. That shouldn’t be a surprise – a few hundred years ago you could sit under a tree watching apples fall and develop a theory about gravity. You could be a monk growing peas in a garden and make foundational discoveries about genetics. It’s harder for a scientist now – you need to know so much more before you can feel like you’ve mastered your subject, and a lot of the easy work is done. 

And that’s a bigger problem. If you feel like you need to know so much about any given field, it almost always means you know less about other things. Ambrose Bierce said, “A specialist is someone who knows everything about something, and nothing about anything else.” But it’s that mix of knowledge, the cross pollination between different worlds that makes for true knowledge, for insight and growth.  

It’s a problem, and I confess, I don’t know the solution. 

On the other hand, I know what a shovel looks like. 

Copyright 2022 Brent Olson