There’s a quote I really love: “I like not to know for as long as possible because then it tells me the truth instead of me imposing the truth.”
The man who said it is Michael Moschen, and I love the quote so much I put it in my e-mail signature. Some folks write back: Wow! Terrific! And some folks just don’t get it; in fact, they get downright snarky about it.
Moschen is the creator of what is often called contact juggling (he hates the name), and you can see what he does by Googling Michael Moschen TED. His work is amazing, beautiful and visionary. Objects seem to float, to interact — sometimes fiercely, sometimes gently. You’ve to see it to believe it.
Moschen describes his work as trying to understand space and time. He’s trying to perceive on a very deep level something that the rest of us take for granted. And that’s where the quote is coming from. He isn’t setting himself up to juggle one more ball or club. He’s not like an ice-skater working one more triple axel into the routine.
When he starts creating a piece he doesn’t know where it’s going to end up. Instead he’s alert, paying attention, moving and watching and learning, and by the time it’s performed it’s become pure magic, something no one could have predicted. Which is the point.
We go through our lives knowing so much. We know what we’ll be doing in an hour, and we know why that person we don’t like does so many stupid things. If there’s a traffic jam ahead we’re pretty sure we know why, and if a friend is unhappy we know just what she ought to do. Our heads are so full of what we know that we end up knowing … nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Instead of seeing what’s happening, we see what we think is supposed to happen because we know what’s supposed to happen because we know so very, very much.
The problem with knowing so very much isn’t that we can’t be Michael Moschen. It isn’t that living in the prison of our expectations prevents innovation. It’s that when we impose our version of the truth — and most of us do most of the time — we cause damage.
Henry James has a phrase: “the abyss of human illusion.” That’s what most of what we think we know is: illusion, so much illusion that it becomes an abyss, and so compelling that we fall into it time and time again.
Unfortunately, we don’t fall down by ourselves. We pull other people down with us. Every dysfunctional family, every dysfunctional organization, every dysfunctional relationship is a witness to that.
So here’s the challenge: be like Michael (Moschen, not Jordan). Not necessarily with space and time (although our misunderstandings of them, especially time, lead to trouble), but with people. Let’s all try not to know for as long as possible so we can hear other people’s truth instead of imposing our own.