The Wisdom of Ignorance

There’s an expression in German; “Besserwisser”. In English we say: „Know it All“. The literal translation of Besserwisser is a Better Knower, or one who just always ‘knows better’. Put that way, it sounds kind of desirable. Remember that sentence from teachers or parents; “you know better than that!” Knowing better here is something desirable, something to be reached and then to be proud of. This is most definitely a tricky double-bind. On the one hand, we want to know better, on the other, it’s a curse or an insult.


This varies with context, of course. If you’re giving someone advice that they neither need nor want, even if it’s true, you’re going to hear (or feel) that KnowItAll negative admonition. If you’re coaching, on the other hand, and you impart knowledge that your client really needs, it’s life-changing. But there’s another even more important context when knowing ‘too much’ is really detrimental; when learning something completely new. I remember a seminar I did when I was younger. The trainer said there were three basic areas of knowledge; what you know, what you don’t know and what you don’t even know you don’t know. Then he asked; how is that third category, what you don’t know you don’t know, going to appear to you? As that which you know! I remember that as a mini-enlightenment moment. That was the moment I installed a mental program I called the “KnowThatIDon’TKnow” loop.


So how does knowledge make itself known in a mental program like this? It certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t make assertions. That’d be impossible, for me at least. It just means that the assertions come, to myself and for others, with a certain degree of positive, philosophical doubt. Now that’s a really dangerous thing, because it sounds to many like I’m hedging my bets. But in a context where I’m presented with the new and want to learn it and integrate it quickly, I’ve found it to be the best strategy. It’s definitely something of a juggling act to know you know something, yet hold it in suspended solution somewhere for a while as if you didn’t know you knew it. It actually can be fun.

For singers, it can be especially fun! A lot of singing, especially high-level, professional singing is about the establishment of automatic habits. Automatic habits which feel and act like instincts are a form of KnowingThatYouKnow. The great and successful singers I’ve known were all very stable in their vocal technique and at the same time constantly tweaking what worked well. It’s even said that Jussi Björling, one of the great tenors in history, on his death bed, uttered the words; “If only I could live just a little longer, maybe I could finally learn how to sing.” This also has a lot to do with context. In the studio or learning a new role the suspended-solution-strategy works well. In an audition or performance it works less well.

It’ll come as no surprise to my readers that singing for me has become a metaphor for life. “Knowing”, knowing that you know and knowing how to not know what you know you know is a part of the art of singing and a part of the art of living well!


About evanb54

I'm a passionate, curious learning junkie--- an X-Opera Singer turned Voice Teacher, Voice Teachers Teacher, NLP Lehrtrainer, Off-Path Coach, Cranio-Sacral worker and a few other even less mainstream things. Everything I've learned or taught revolves around THE VOICE. The Voice as a tool of artistic expression. The Voice as a tool of emotional transparency. The voice as a tool of flexible communication. More information can be found at my Institute Site: The Wiesbaden Academy of the Vocal Muse Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden, Coaching, Voice Pedagogy
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One Response to The Wisdom of Ignorance

  1. bhillman2014 says:

    thank you for the reminder of not knowing what I don’t know. It made my day.

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