The Importance of Openness: A Paradigm for Learning

About a week ago, I had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend, in fact one of the very few friends I have who is interested in personal growth, so you can imagine we get along pretty darn well.

Our conversation ranged the gambit, and one of the most interesting things we talked about that continues to prove increasingly relevant in my life is a paradigm for learning.

He shared with me that there are four stages of learning.  Here they are listed ranging from the least knowledgeable to most knowledgeable:

1. Unconscious incompetence: This is the stage where you don’t know that you don’t know.  Just like a baby isn’t aware of notions of galaxies, the baby doesn’t know how many galaxies are in the universe nor do they know that they don’t know this.  You and I, at the very least, know that there are many galaxies in the universe, we just might not know how many.  Knowing that we don’t know moves us to the next, and perhaps most important, stage of learning

2. ***Conscious incompetence***:  This stage totally rocks!  Here, we know that we don’t know.  We are aware of multiple galaxies in the universe and we know that we don’t know exactly how many there are.  Embracing conscious incompetence, I believe, is absolutely fundamental to living a joyous life.  When we embrace our ignorance, as Socrates did when he humbly proclaimed, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing!” we open ourselves up to the infinite range of possibilities.  We humble ourselves, our intelligence, and suddenly our eyes begin to marvel at the flourishing life all around us.  We begin to ask questions like, “Who am I?  How did I get here? Why am I here?  Where is Here?”  We also may ask how many galaxies are in the universe, and then proceed to curiously engage our environment and embark on the journey of discovering an answer.  Granted, even over the course of a whole lifetime of exploration, we might never satisfactorily answer the question, “Who am I?” but nonetheless, it’s great to ask every single day.

Embracing our ignorance, consciously, is one of the healthiest and best choices we can ever make.  By consciously accepting our ignorance, we allow ourselves to grow and learn from our environment.  We humble ourselves and experience a whole lot of wonder in Creation.  From the perspective of conscious incompetence, we might also find ourselves laughing a lot more, enjoying the mystery of Life that dances so abundantly everywhere we look.

During the Street Retreat with my brother, we thoroughly embraced our conscious incompetence and spent hours appreciating the smallest of details.   From a single leaf, to a ladybug, to a raindrop – we constantly found ourselves in states of reverence and wonder.  This world becomes a playground when we open up to our own ignorance.  This Present Moment is filled with wonder, opportunity, and abundance, if only we open to it.  Seriously…the moment is amazing!   What brings you Here & Now…reading these words…? The answer?  Only everything that has ever happened in the entire history of Creation!  Or maybe that’s wrong, but at least it’s fun to think about.

3. Conscious competence:  When we achieve conscious incompetence, we can readily access information that allows us to answer questions.  If someone asked you how many galaxies are in the universe, you can say, “Somewhere between 0 and nine nonillion,” or whatever the number is.  You might not be so mastered with you knowledge of astronomy that you sporadically offer such fun facts, but at least you can draw up the knowledge within you when prompted with a question.  We can achieve conscious competence in a whole variety of subjects.  However, once again, here a few questions that many, if not all of us, will not satisfactorily answer throughout the course of our entire lives – hence, they are always good questions to ask

  1. Who am I?
  1. How did I get Here?
  1. Why am I Here?
  1. Where is Here?
  1. What is my purpose on this planet?

Existential questions are always worth considering and help open our minds to our conscious incompetence so that we may more fully embrace the wonder of Here & Now.

4. Unconscious competence:  This is the level of mastery that we can all achieve in a particular field if we have the courage to commit ourselves fully to it.  When you follow your passion, it’s much easier to muster this courage.  I’m imaging myself achieving unconscious competence about the history, origins, and creation of paperclips, and I’m quickly discovering that paperclips are not a passion of mine.  As far as paperclips go, I’ll choose the conscious incompetence and wonder at them instead 😉

However!  As for conscious evolution, Oneness, and Spirituality, I’m all for a hefty investment of my most valuable resource – time.  Even if we are just guessing at transcendent truths, I’ll joyfully explore in hopes that experience will mother some wisdom in me and in All.

As human beings, I think one of the best things we can all do is not only consider the eternal questions like, “Who am I?” but also questions like, “What do I most love to do?” and “What would I be willing to learn and teach about for the rest of my life?”  Imagine the possibilities if we all achieved unconscious competence in some field that vastly increases the quality of our own lives and the quality of all those we share our mastery with.  Suddenly the world is filled with gurus.

As individuals, we may never know everything, but collectively, collaborating together – possibilities are infinite!

Meanwhile, if you have yet to discover your passion, spend time to searching for it.  Get to know yourself!  Answering the question, “Who am I?” will certainly help you along your way.  Also, on your search for what you really love most to do, embrace your conscious incompetence.  Open up to the world.  Soak it in.  Curiously engage.  Let yourself be fascinated by Life.  This is Life!  How did you get Here?  You are free to celebrate this moment in all its mystery and wonder.  You are free to enjoy all that you know and all that you don’t know.

Whatever you do, smile.  Even be consciously incompetent about why you’re smiling, but know that you are, and that’s it good.  Science even says so.  Now you can embark on the journey of discovering why smiling is such a good choice to make.

Open, open, open, – completely open!

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Openness: A Paradigm for Learning

  1. When you ask “Who AM I?”, you are presupposing that “I AM”. That is very self-referent. On what grounds and with what authority do you conclude that “I AM”? Who can say “I AM” with authority? Only the one “I AM”, the one who IS essentially.
    Get out of your self-conscience and better ask “AM I?” “IS I”?, and if so, “WHAT is I?”, not even “WHO is I?”, at least not yet…… You will begin to discover the “i”, and its deep roots in the “I AM”.

    • You just blew my mind! Just asked, “Am I?” and find myself laughing. It’s kind of entertaining to think that there’s a possibility that the answer to that question is, “No, you are not,” but then who is saying that? Ahh!

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