Tuesday, November 20, 2012


"It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows." Epictetus

I was driving to Toronto on Sunday morning to meet up with my two childhood friends Brigitte and Pam. En route, I was happily listening to Michael Enright on CBC. He began an interview with that quote and my brain immediately forgot to pay attention to the rest of the interview. Apparently it preferred to ponder the quote rather than listen to the voice on the radio.

Is it impossible for a man (or woman - to be fair) to learn what he (or she) thinks he (or she) already knows?

Is it impossible to see a person for who they are today when we have a preconceived notion of who they were years ago?

Is it impossible to recognize that ones opinion of something might not be the only reasonable way of looking at it?

Is it impossible not to judge someone when they do something that we believe to be wrong?

I spent a few hours with Pam and Brigitte. I didn't mention the quote but the flow of our conversation gave me new examples.

Two out of the three of us are in mommy-mode so we talked about babies, specifically breastfeeding. More specifically the frustration of feeling judged for not breastfeeding and facing downright nasty looks for other mothers when they spotted a bottle of formula.

Is it impossible for the owners of those nasty looks to fathom that perhaps there are very good, and perfectly healthy, reasons for not breastfeeding? Is it impossible for those people to imagine that a person may have medical, physical, emotional, logistical or any number of reasons for not breastfeeding? Even if they went to class that discussed the pros and cons of all newborn nutrition options, I'm guessing it would be hard for a breastfeeding advocate to consider that there might be other comparable options.

Just like how it's hard for people not to make assumptions the second they hear the word 'diabetes'. I've been on the receiving end of the looks and been asked the questions. "Wow, you must be really out of control if you're on the pump" being one classic example.

Where do these beliefs come from and why is it so hard to unlearn them?

Later the day, Doug and I were watching Sixty Minutes and there was a story about a study done on babies. Using stuffed animals and bowls of cheerios, they were able to prove that babies are born with an instinct to favour those who are most similar to them and to be ok with punishing those who are different. From as early as 3 months old, these behaviours were evident.

Is it impossible to learn that what we think we already know?

People often feel that they know what is best and they force those assumptions on other people, places, things, technologies, religious or political choices. It becomes very difficult to unlearn those assumptions. To the detriment of all those who are unfairly judged.

Wouldn't it be nice if every day started with a clean slate and an open mind?

1 comment:

  1. Fortunately for everyone, it's possible to unlearn what you thought you knew and be ready to learn new things. It might not be easy or quick, but at least it can happen.