I was cleaning out files in my office last week and came across a poem written by my younger son, Jordan, when he was seventeen. He most likely would have been in the first semester of his senior year since he turned eighteen that December and graduated in May. Although short and simple, the poem contained a streak of profound wisdom so with his permission I’m sharing it here today.
Ode to 17
I’m seventeen years old
I only know what I know
But I’m going to learn from others’ mistakes
Heed a pagan’s warning
Listen to people who don’t have a lot to say
The way I see it
That puts me one step ahead of the people
Who know everything about everything
There are many different paths
That lead almost the right direction
I’ll let them take me close
Before I start pioneering
The way I see it
Knowing nothing about nothing
Puts me one step ahead of everyone else
Jordan D. Haas
The Bible is full of paradoxical statements: The first shall be last. He that is greatest among you shall be servant to all. Unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The foolish will confound the wise. Jesus was good at turning things upside down and inside out.
I find a little of that upside down wisdom in Jordan’s poem as well. He basically says that the person who talks the most and thinks he knows it all may be the least intelligent person in the room. And that a humble heart and a teachable spirit may be the very secret to the fountain of knowledge.
The supreme confidence and sense of superiority sometimes held by graduating seniors is often replaced with an awareness of how much they DON’T know once they become college freshmen. My advice to graduates and to EVERYONE is to “know how much you don’t know”.
A humble heart and a teachable spirit may be the very secret to the fountain of knowledge.
As we grow in years, experience and expertise, it’s easy to become prideful in our accumulation of facts, formulas and a false sense of grandiosity. Scripture speaks to this inflated self-assessment in I Corinthians 10:12 when it says, “Therefore let him that thinks he is wise take heed lest he fall.”
And again in Romans 11:21, “Do not be puffed up with pride…” Contrast a know-it-all attitude with David’s prayer recorded in Psalm 86:11, “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on YOUR FAITHFULNESS; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear YOUR NAME.” King David was smart enough to “know what he didn’t know” and wise enough to have a humble heart in his pursuit of knowledge.
American opera conductor and producer Sarah Caldwell said, “Learn everything you can anytime you can from anyone you can, – there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.” My experience has been that every person I meet has something to teach me and after every meaningful conversation I have I come away with something new. I never want to lose that quest for information, for expansion and for shared experience from someone who knows something I don’t.
It was Voltaire who said, “The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.” The truly wise people of the earth realize there is far more they don’t know than they do know. And although he was only seventeen and although he was my son, I think a certain teenager realized admitting his lack of knowledge actually placed him ahead of those who refused to do so.
My advice to graduates and to EVERYONE is to “know how much you don’t know”.
I love mining the depths of a soul who has deep treasures buried there. It is often the quiet ones who have the most profound thoughts and insights. In fact, Proverbs 10:19 tells us “Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable. But he who restrains his lips is wise.”
When I visited Ireland some years back I had a chance to kiss the “Blarney stone”, a legendary block of Carboniferous limestone set into the tower of Blarney Castle in 1446. Tradition has it that those who kiss this “stone of eloquence” will receive the gift of gab. I laughed when our tour guide gave us this piece of information and told my group I had been BORN with that gift so I surely did not need to kiss the stone. I sometimes jokingly say I am a babbling brook while people like my sister and my beautiful daughter are deep, still waters. Such riches lie beneath their calm surfaces!
Even though I love words and use words as a way to relate to my world, I never want to be that person in Jordan’s poem who “knows everything about everything”. Rather, I want to be the one searching for truths, wisdom and knowledge every day from every source I can.
Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Graduates, (and the rest of us too) let’s never stop learning, never stop seeking and never think we have arrived.