On a walk last week, my 16-year-old and I heard the honking of some large white birds flying overhead. “Look! The cranes are back,” I said. “Wait, no…or are they herons?” Telling the difference between large, white water birds with long legs is not my strong suit.
After doing some googling later that day, my teenager informed me that a crane flies with a straight neck, while a heron’s is curved in flight. “So,” they pointed out with sarcasm and wisdom, “if you ever come across one or the other and you’re unsure, all you need to do is run up to it and scare it off. Then you’ll know.”
While I like to think I’m a person who wouldn’t startle birds to satisfy my own curiosity, I admit that in my eagerness to know and name feelings, opinions and problems, I sometimes rush in too fast.
I don’t mean we shouldn’t pursue knowledge. After years of seeking a diagnosis for my son’s rare genetic syndrome, for example, I remember how much it meant to find that answer, both for his health and for mine. And as a person who works in health care improvement and research, we strive for and celebrate answers, evidence, solutions and treatments.
But not knowing also has its potential and power. It’s where we can see things as they are, not as we think they should be. Where we can learn new things and change, if we can tolerate the discomfort for even just a little while.
I’m grateful that my child and the cranes (yes, they were cranes) for reminding me of that.
It takes courage to stand still in the uncomfortable space of not knowing. To not rush toward the solid ground of clear-cut answers. To see life with fresh eyes and hear each other with fresh ears.
Reflective practices can help us find that courage and patience. If you’re curious about the ways in which not knowing can support our leadership and our growth, here are some reflection questions to explore:
- Where in your life and work are you able to stay open?
- What practices support your ability to stay with the questions before moving prematurely to answers and solutions?
- How might you give space to those around you for more looking and listening?
I’d love to hear what you see and learn.