Moving Beyond What You Already Know

In 1963, Madeleine L’Engle gave an acceptance speech when she received the Newbery Award for her work A Wrinkle In Time. It’s a superb book if you’ve never read it, and if you have, it’s well worth revisiting. In her speech, the author describes her worldview as one incorporating, “a universe of continuous creation and expansion.”

 

While this quote may reflect what most cosmologists believe to be the case about the universe, it is also a perspective on life which too many adults forget. As I look around, I see far more examples of people who, say, by their late thirties or early forties, draw the conclusion that “this is the way things are,” and tell themselves, “I already know everything I need to know about life.” In other words, they simply stop asking questions and assume a fixed worldview. Curiosity, uncertainty, and creativity fade away from their daily thought processes, no longer providing that necessary dose of intrigue which keeps our existence exciting and brimming with new potential.

 

How many examples spring to mind of people you know whose world’s have gotten smaller as they’ve aged? Settled routines, downsized expectations, a resignation into disappointment or grief have shrunk the boundaries of their lives to what they describe as realistic. “I’m just trying to get through the day,” they mutter, angry and threatened by any suggestion of reaching for more. “I’m too tired to learn something new.” “I don’t know and I don’t care!” And, the tragedy is, they really don’t. So much for a universe of continuous creation and expansion.

 

It’s hard to learn new things; I’m sympathetic! As I continue to struggle with my prolonged job hunt, I’m pushed to consider fields far-flung from the arenas where I hold professional expertise. Immediately, my resistance stamps its foot: What am I thinking? How could I possibly manage X at this stage in my life? What if it doesn’t work? People will laugh at me when I fail. This choir of criticism is precisely why people opt to remain where they are. “I know enough,” they argue to themselves. “I don’t want to be disappointed again.” “It’s safer to stay where I am because at least I know what to expect.” Does any of this sound familiar?

 

In order to expand our universe we have to push ourselves! Trying something new is awkward and comes with no guarantees. What might happen if you stopped agreeing simply to keep the peace or actually spoke up for yourself? Would your world truly implode if you quit that soul sucking job? But, my thesis goes beyond such questions because creativity stems from a positive idea—you need to want to go somewhere, to achieve something, to extract from life more than you are currently experiencing.

 

As many risky ventures have shown us, innovation can be enormously threatening to individuals and society as a whole; they can reinvigorate or destroy entire ways of living. But, it’s only through such experiments (take democracy, for example) that marvels can occur. There are no limits to the universe—we may not know what’s beyond a certain point, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing discoveries to be found. The only thing for certain is that you’ll never, ever see them if you limit yourself to what you already know.

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