Bill Nye the science guy said the above sentence during his commencement address at UMass Lowell Morning Commencement Ceremony in 2014. Shortly after, mentioning some examples of this, he added “. … Respect their knowledge and learn from them. It will bring out the best in all of you.” which only makes it all the better
For a little background on Bill Nye, check out his Wikipedia page here.
What this quote means to me
I think this is such a powerful reminder, and something I sometimes need reminding of myself. But the statement on its own is not powerful, but reminding yourself of it, that everyone you ever meet will know something you don´t, and therefore treating everyone with the respect they deserve for in some ways being wiser than you, is. And if we then also adopt the stance that we not just can, but want to learn from everyone, makes it even more powerful.
And I believe, if we all always thought of this, we would be wiser as a species. Big words, I know. I have two reasons for thinking so, one being that we can simply lose out on knowledge due to not being open to what a specific person is telling us in a specific situation, but I also believe we will generally be better to learn and absorb from our surroundings if we are open to the idea that everyone we meet might teach us something.
Removing the bias and being open to unique perspectives
A good example of this can be in a company meeting, where John Doe again starts coming up with these ridiculous ideas that won´t lead anywhere in your weekly progress meetings. The worst we can do in that situation is to, due to bias based on experience, take the subconscious stance that John Doe´s ideas are stupid before he even presents them. By doing so, we blind ourselves to the situation where he gets it right.
Removing social norms
“From Children and Drunks, You Will Hear the Truth”
Oftentimes children, what they say and their opinions are quickly discarded as being exactly that, the ramblings of a child who couldn´t possibly have any meaningful opinion or angle to add to the discussion. This could not be farther from the truth because even though they do not have adequate experience/neural networks built to navigate complex situations, they also do not have years of conforming to social ideals and norms. Often a child will see a thing right as it is, with no blur, but if you are not open to this perspective, you will never see it yourself.
Being on the streets
“The most dangerous person is one who listens, thinks and observes”
I often hear many negatives associated with homeless people, that it’s their own fault due to poor life choices, scammers, beggars, ruining the image of the city and much more. Much of this might be true, and it might not, but the biggest problem with this that we all judge a homeless person, before even having heard them out. An even bigger issue is that we often avoid a homeless person if we can, instead of saying hi and trying to get to know them.
“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.”
Why would you want to? Well, can you think of anyone wiser, than someone who lives his life on the street, day to day, observing and thinking? I think if you had the courage to, instead of avoiding the homeless person, sit down and talk. Ask if they have 10 minutes to teach you something. Or tell you a story from their life, or maybe help you with a problem you face? I am sure you will find that those ten minutes were invested well, and you might have made someone else´s day in the process.
The above were different examples of where it could be important to remember that everyone you meet on your way will know something you don´t, but it really goes much further than that. You should not just bring it up when you meet a certain person, but have it at the back of your mind everywhere you go. It will not only make you wiser, but you might also realize that you can extract learning on other subjects than you had thought, from a specific person.
Your homework will be too, from now on, remind yourself every day before you go out of the door, that you can and should try and learn from everyone you meet, and at the end of the day sit for a moment and digest what you have learned during the day, due to your newfound openness. I believe you will be positively surprised.
The last words
I often find that it is also a very good way to mentality prepare yourself for something you might not want to do, whether it be a social event you have to attend, or an uncomfortable meeting, or an exam. If you tell yourself, “well at least I will learn something from it, and be wiser when I leave compared to when I arrived”, then it suddenly becomes a lot more attractive.
Imagine treating every encounter as a learning encounter.
Thank you for reading,