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The Buddhists call it Beginners Mind-that one enters into every encounter with the assumption that there is something on offer here, something new to learn.

David Brooks likes to call it ‘epistemic humility,’ meaning of all the things that can be known, we start and end knowing only an infinitesimal slither of It, and half of even that much is wrong. Most learning is unlearning.


I rehearse my film maker son for contentious public events to answer with “Your question reminds me that I am not certain of many things, but I am certain of one thing, and one thing only, and that is…..(drum beat)….that I don’t have a darn clue how to answer your question.”

Beginners Mind means you relish learning, you relish people showing where you are wrong and that their victory is the triumph of truth, not the triumph of some cheap bully’s ego. I try to teach myself this all the time- share the advice with others but then, I see some FB issue or crazy comment that I cannot resist. And I post something. And say, dont, dont, don’t – and then…..why why why.

I share my concern about tear gas at the “Layfayette Square Protest” and a storyteller colleague writes, How Dare I spread false Stories, there was NO tear Gas. The President assured us that this was true. I tried to gently ask, OK, I was not there, I usually believe priests and Bishops who were, but you may be right. But of greater interest to me is how is it you are so certain. That makes me super curioius “You may be right” is my usual response but once I become the target of the “Truth Police” I usually withdraw.

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I work with local politicians and those I know inspire me. I show appreciation on FB, not as a partisan but to say, thank you for serving. I did that last week and got into a tangle with someone who absolutely hated the Senator and when I asked how come, he named Baltimore as proof. It is a shithole city that is terrorized by guns, drugs and violence. i replied like some giddy Baltimore Tourist guide, listing all the amazzing things that I love about Baltimore and that I had been there the last three weekends. That riled my interlocutor who then got abusive saying if I supported this congress member, I was spawn of the devil. I was not insisting I was right- just curious about how he was so certain I was so wrong. I had to plead guilty as charged to pacify him and left his courtroom.

It happened again this week-people blaming Hillary Clnton for Russiagate and for falsely supporting BLM and Benghaszi and the rest. I have worked with Senator Clinton and suggested that she can’t be this total monster that people think and even if she was, how was she relevant now, for goodness sake? I got a comment back that I should be ashamed of myself, because clearly, she is a monster. To suggest otherwise made me abusive to them. I wrote back- OK, I wish I knew why you were so certain. it is not the view that gets me, but how people come to be so free of any doubt that they might be wrong. Just once even. Is Fallibilty so out of date or being wrong a death sentence?

I realize that certainty and inquiry are contradictions. i realize that people are using FB as therapy under the guise of open discussion. It is therapeutic to abuse strangers. Its the classic catharsis. But I decide that I will not play their therapist. I will not waste my time and I will not use FB for my own therapy. it is so temptiing to press SEND. When people have answers that make the questions irrelevant, then its like talking to a statue. Reminds me of that old Jewish joke-rabbi in Jerusalem praying every day at the Western Wall and is asked -you must be so close to God. How do you experience that ecstacy?. And he says, “Its like talking to.a brick wall.”

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I still want to learn. I still want genuine and vigorous inquiry done with wit and with passion. I am happy for someone to say, you got it wrong, or here is what you are missing, or to challenge my strong held views, make me give account for being so opionated. But shut downs use the tone usually associated with religion- dogmas, anathemas and infallibility. Its a shut out. Even the Pope has come to admit he got Galileo and anti-semitism wrong. If my dialog partner won’t admit that possibility, where is the possibility for any of us to learn? Does -“Always being right” disguise a pathological fear of bring wrong? Someone in 1600 BLM Square might know.

I am not certain if I am right or wrong. I am never even certain I am certain. Perhaps I need to find another platform away from the political police that insist Hillary is 100% Bad, Tear Gas was not fired at Layfayette, just gas that caused eye irritation, and Baltmore is Hell on earth, even Little Italy, the Walters Gallery, and Fells Point.

If people explored the things they are so certain about, I am curious what belief might they find underlying their fierce defense. Say if it was Tear gas? If Baltimore had some redeeming qualities, if Hillary did one thing good in her life, what would that do for someone’s world view? What would they have to gve up?

They may be right. I may be all wrong. And that makes me vigilant on my own tone which I am sure I get wrong too at times. I am old enough to know though, that I have no right any more to inflict my ignorance or my incompetence on the world. Learning from mistakes means you have to make use of life’s steady curriculum of lessons that we all are forced to study.

It may not always work but from now on, if I do not feel a mutual commitment to listen and learn, I am stepping away. Here is my deal- Don’t go certain on my curious, and I won’t go certain on your curious. If we go curious to curious about what is driving our certainties and what so enrages us, then We might learn from each other.

What certainty are you curious about? Lets talk.

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