Reflection 261: 2 Kinds of People

May 10, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Slowly, I have come to realize what I learned by writing Consciousness: The Book. There are two kinds of people walking around in the world, and I have been each of them at different times in my life. I call them knowers and searchers, or members of the right-answer tribe and those of the problem-solving tribe.

Right-answer people know the answer to every question before it is asked because they have studiously memorized all they need to know for the rest of their lives. They carry their book of answers around in their heads, and when they meet an obstacle, they consult the index and go straight to the section that prescribes what to do about it.

This is made possible by studious application of their minds during childhood to whatever book is taken to be the ultimate authority on all issues of importance. They don’t usually have to seek out such a book; it is handed to their innocent selves and they dutifully memorize the great teachings within, calibrating themselves according to the ways and beliefs of the familial culture they are born to.

As adults, they become respected as authorities within their clans, communities, and professions because they can be relied upon to provide a spontaneous solution to every conflict or predicament. As masters of received wisdom, they thrive on the praise and gratitude they receive from those who look up to them.

As a teenager, I was such a person. I knew all there was to know about mathematics, art, science, history, politics, religion, war, to mention but a few of my many conceits. That is, what I knew—no matter how little it might seem—defined all that was true and worth knowing. Ask me any question and I could give a ready answer straight from my heart, for I earnestly believed every word that I said. I was my own greatest fan and admirer for I was convinced I knew everything worth knowing. If I didn’t have a ready answer, the question was trivial and not worth bothering about.

Ah, I fondly recall those heady days when I doubted the world was ready to receive me in the full glory of my understanding.

It has taken me sixty years to descend from what I then thought of as the pinnacle of my career.

Only gradually did I discern that I myself was the problem, my task becoming reframed as having to unlearn everything I was so sure that I knew, and start learning what I could through personal experience. Now in old age I think I have made some progress in those sixty years, and can hold my own for a limited time on a small selection of topics I have grappled with through intimate application of my caring and attention.

If I dare classify myself as a problem solver, it is only in those areas of experience I have grappled with most earnestly for the longest time. In most areas I remain a bumbling novice. I can usually bring back a photographic image of what moves me, and arrange my photos into a PowerPoint that gets my theme across to a small and select audience. What I have become is a seeker of what I call adventures, one who throws himself into the world to feel alive, and usually stumbles upon experiences he has never had or imagined before. My innocence and ignorance are boundless, so no matter what happens, I judge myself fortunate to be alive.

Today, for instance, I finished a presentation on erosion and sea-level rise in Acadia National Park. Not the whole park, just the shoreline of a small picnic area on Thompson Island near the park entrance. I have been following the fate of seven fire rings—barbecue grills for cooking hamburgers over wood-burning fires in the great outdoor. Tracking those rings through the seasons for six years, I have followed them through storms of rain, snow, and ice, through summer heat and winter chill, as the landscape around them is overtaken by waves, overcome, and claimed by the sea, leaving them as much as five feet closer to the shoreline at high tide, now only three of the rings capable of containing a fire if the tide isn’t too high.

That’s the level I operate on now. I know whereof I speak because I have lived my personal adventure every inch of the way. I have felt it with my fingers, smelled it, tasted it on my tongue, heard the roaring of the waves, and seen the lashing of waves against the shore where the fire rings were once though to be snug.

The big adventure, of course, flows from my fascination with the workings of my own mind, which I have largely devoted myself to for the past thirty years. Before I died, I wanted to acquaint one human mind on intimate terms, so I pursued the one mind within reach, which happened to be my own. My goal was to learn how to separate out my own contribution to situations I found myself in so I could see beyond my own shadow to the great world beyond. In my youth, back in the days when I knew everything, I thought my shadow was the world itself, so I was often balked and confused by my my own unique brand of ignorance.

Now I know better, and feel grateful for whatever sunlight illuminates the scene before my eyes so I can reach out to it as myself and not some mythical and pretentious being. Humility is the lesson of living a life, which leads on to familiarity with little things, not the grand dreams of my youth.

Two sorts of people, two stages in a life. I doubt there is any way to leapfrog the prideful stage to get straight to the simpler stage of humility. I think we have to earn our humility in order to begin our true education. I feel fortunate in having survived long enough to see the glimmer of true understanding reflected from the damp and rusty curves of a select group of fire rings before they and I succumb to the waves rising higher and higher upon us.

How have you fared since last I blogged? Y’r friend, –Steve

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One Response to “Reflection 261: 2 Kinds of People”

  1. ryeder said

    Excellent read…I am so glad I am entering the second stage. It makes life so much simpler….

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