The art of not knowing what the hell is going on

If you were to ask me now who the governor of my home state is I would have to stop and think for a minute before answering. The truth is: I don’t know. I have no idea. I’m not even sure who I voted for last election, or even if I voted at all.

Why? Because I don’t care. I don’t care about politics, politicians, the economy or current events in general. I decided a long time ago to stop watching television, a practice (or lack thereof) which I have successfully maintained for the past 8 years. I don’t read newspapers, magazines or news websites. I have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on in the world. Ever.

And let me confess something to you. When it comes to following the news, I tried. I really, really tried. But it just didn’t stick. Not once. I tried different newspapers, different bloggers, radios, channels. Nothing worked and, eventually, I gave up.

How do I feel about this? Just fine, thank you.

In his essay, On The Shortness of Life, Seneca said that people tend to waste their lives doing things, saying things or learning things that aren’t really important. People try to remember historic events so as to have small talk with their peers, or they try to memorize useless things so as to show others how smart they are. But, ultimately, these things aren’t bringing any real value to their lives. On the contrary, they take up time, our most valuable resource.

It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author, and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar. But now this vain passion for learning useless things has assailed the Romans also. — Seneca, the Younger

Recently, I was talking to my grandmother about this. She believes that I should dedicate some time every day to watching the news and learning about the world. I had just recently read the aforementioned essay by Seneca and his thoughts about how people waste time with unimportant things. She says to me: “See? Even back then people considered important to read about news so they could talk to others.” To which I replied: “Yes, so much so that they prioritized talking to others rather than producing something of value and ended up anonymous in history, whereas Seneca, who defended that time be spent on the truly important things in life, produced content that exists till this day.”

She later asked me where I had learned to think this way. I told I had learned it by reading books. Books by people I admire, people I trust, people I respect. I read to foment my mind with fuel so that I can create things that are valuable for others. If I only try to learn what people already know or what everyone else is learning, how will I be of service to them? Think about it: if it takes me about 8 hours to read a book and most people spend about two hours a day catching up on the news; over the course of one year, that’s 91 books that I could have read and didn’t because I was busy learning about something that happened today that won’t matter tomorrow.

But then you could ask me: “What do you do when you’re in a group and someone asks you for your opinion on something that has happened recently?” What you really want to know is how I react when people are talking about something that might seem relevant at a particular moment and of which I know nothing about. Yeah, that happens. The thing is, if I don’t know anything about it, that already means that I’m not interested. In this particular moment in my life, I lead with a lot of people and I have to communicate with them, so I’m always open to hearing their thoughts on mostly anything. And when you don’t really follow what’s going on, you get to play the naive pupil and let people fill you in and explain what’s going on. Sometimes that works very well. 

Not having an opinion is often better than having too many. Not knowing is preferable than knowing. Not knowing gives you permission to learn, whereas knowing puts a break on it. You may think that not knowing puts you at a disadvantage during discussions, but you can look at it in another way. When you don’t know, you get the opportunity to exercise childlike curiosity and have people explain things to you in the most detailed manner. And they will explain with a care and a patience that they wouldn’t have if you already knew and were just stating your opinion.

On his excellent TED talk, Tim Urban, from the blog WaitButWhy, shows us a life calendar, where there is one box for every week in our 90-year life (supposing most of us get there, of course). It puts things in perspective. If you color the boxes you have already used up, even more so. So, when people give me a weird look because I hadn’t heard that Portela had been crowned Rio’s best Samba School for the first time in 33 years, I just smile and ask them to tell me all about it. It makes them happy and I don’t feel like I have to Google it later. End of story.

You in Weeks

Another friend told me that those who don’t know or care about politics end up being governed by those who do. I have people I trust that are much better at understanding politics and following it than me. So, when I need to know something, I just go to them. It makes them feel good and doesn’t waste my time. Maybe the reason I don’t care for politics is because we are consistently being governed by people who don’t know or care about it either.

Life is too short to spend our time learning things that don’t have any relevance.

And as to my home state’s current Governor? I still don’t know. Maybe I’ll ask around; maybe I won’t. It’s not really that important.

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