It’s hard to know what to think sometimes.
Perhaps the news seems unreliable, and you’re not sure what sources to trust. Perhaps your own ideologies are beginning to fray at the edges, and you’re not certain which of your own heuristics to follow anymore. Maybe you’ve been exposed to new ideas, new data, new people who invalidate your biases, new foods that indicate you may, in fact, not hate cumin as much as you thought you did.
In such moments, I find that focusing on being aware, rather than being right, can help. Seeking out knowledge instead of affirmation. Being open to information of all kinds, rather than seeking out data-points to confirm a stance already taken. Not having an opinion about something other than, “I’m not sure, but doing my best to learn and understand.”
You can, of course, be aware and act in alignment with your beliefs at the same time. But when your beliefs and the narratives that inform your beliefs are themselves evolving, rerouting your energies toward new information, toward accurate self-perception, toward connecting the dots into a more well-rounded context allows you to keep growing without limiting your growth to any particular direction. It increases the scope and span of your view, without requiring you to first define exactly what it is you’re looking at.
We needn’t have an opinion about the Peloponnesian War to learn about it. We needn’t decide how we feel about a particular author before reading a book they’ve written. We needn’t bend the information that we encounter through a lens we’ve spend years grinding into the proper shape. A shape, by the way, that is determined by how we subjectively see the world, and through which we have decided to interpret all new information in the future (despite not knowing what that information might be, and who we might be when we encounter it).
We are, in fact, better off—in a better position to achieve a purer intake of information—when we’re acquiring it moments of increased malleability. It’s not easy to wriggle free of our preconceptions every time we encounter new data about the world. As such, it’s when we’re at pivot points, when we’re feeling most confused and listless, that’s it’s best to soak up more of the world, to meet new people, to read and listen and watch and interact broadly.
There’s a reason we’re predisposed to go out and travel or seek out new groups of friends when we’re at our most disoriented or discontented. We want to fill in the gaps, certainly, but we also want to create new ones. We want to figure out what other challenges are out there, and what other filters we might apply to those we encounter moving forward. We want to know how best to interpret all this raw data we’re taking in, how to understand it, and hopefully, how to most ideally shape who we are, inwardly and outwardly, so that we’re regularly rearranging our internal furniture and becoming increasingly refined versions of ourselves.
Sometimes these moments are foisted upon us by the world, by other people, by our own biologies. Sometimes we seek them out in moments of clarity, or moments of muddle, or moments of boredom or outrage or rebellion.
However you got there, these are not moments to be wasted. Embrace them for what they are: opportunities.
Take a step outside your norms, take a deep breath, and take in as much of the world beyond the familiar as you dare.
This essay was originally published in my newsletter.