So to start with, a story.
A few months ago I began to learn how to play the Ukulele. Well, again. It’s a great creative outlet, and a relatively simple instrument to play. Plus, it allows me to expand my singing repertoire somewhat by choosing songs I can sing along to while playing.
I’ve been playing and practising fairly consistently, several times a week, but it’s important to note that I’m entirely self-taught. Few people have heard me play, but I’ve found an abundance of online resources and I’ve purchased a few excellent books to teach me the basics.
I had this small tuning device that would allow me to keep the ukulele in tune – telling me which note each string sounded when struck so I could keep the standard GCEA tuning.
And yet, after around four months of practice, I only now realised that my first string – tuned to G – has been tuned an entire octave too low. This was quick to fix, but the effects on me have been… complicated.
The biggest problem is that I’ve become accustomed to the sound of the off-tune ukulele, making everything I play now sound somewhat wrong.
This story has a purpose in this post. The older I get, the more I understand how little I know. I’ve had people comment on the breadth and scope of my knowledge several times in the past. I would say, though, that it is hard to truly say that one person is so significantly more knowledgeable than another. We are always learning, always taking in more from our surroundings.
Those who do not study as long or as deeply in tertiary education, say, often gain a different kind of knowledge. They spend more time in the workforce, perhaps. I’ve spent a lot of time trawling online articles, reading books and researching random topics of interest.
But there’s always gaps in our knowledge. Think of how often you’ve spoken about a topic in pop culture that you’re very familiar with. Say you like Frank Sinatra. Imagine the shock you might express if you were to meet someone who cannot name a single Frank Sinatra song, or who confesses to having never listened to his music in the past.
Now, Frank Sinatra is not for everyone, naturally. We are all gifted with different tastes, of course. It goes to show, however, that knowledge we may take for granted can be almost entirely alien to others.
At the end of the day, everyone you see moving around you, everyone in your life from the closest friend to the most remote stranger, is doing their best with what they’ve got. We’re all weak from time to time, strong occasionally and (if only by definition), mostly average.
Some musicians would likely have heard my tragically out of tune ukulele and have been able to immediately set me straight. It’s a funny story, but one that highlights just how difficult it is to see such a gap in your knowledge. As Epictetus once said, “it is impossible for a man to learn what he already thinks he knows.”
Be gentle with others. There is no shame in not knowing something, or in erring because of a lack of such knowledge. Wilful ignorance is another thing entirely, but when we’re all just learning, all just doing our best, it’s better to be charitable with our knowledge and with our patience and our knowledge. However much we can share with another, they can share just as much with us.
We’re all learning how to live. It’s a lesson that takes a lifetime to complete.