Johan Marais-Piper


I remember my frustrated mum tiredly saying to me, at 15, that my favourite phrase is “I know”, and how annoying that is. I also remember instinctively knowing that it’s true on both counts.

I saw knowing as a way to gain control over my life. In my mind, there was nothing worse than not knowing. To be the fool. At school, knowledge was my superhero — being the smartest, the most switched-on, the one at the top of the class. I was built for the classroom.

But then school ended. The gradings ended. No-one was handing out marks for projects and assignments. Looking at it I still crave for that validation, that “oh yea, Johan knows.” I’ll be honest here, it has been a good 15 years of life after school and I miss it.

That feeling I used to get from knowing slowly faded away. Where’s my validation, if I’m not one who knows? All of a sudden, once outside of school boundaries, answers are based on perspectives and opinions, and, and, and…

“Schools teach you to imitate. If you don’t imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade.” — Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Life outside of school is a much more complex beast and I realise that absolute truths are hard to come by. Now, in its place, where knowing once stood, are good questions.

The more I bed with questions the more I appreciate her. I’m learning that not knowing is often times more fun than knowing. When a question is answered, there’s this little dance between the truth and an opinion. Often in search of a truth sometimes you get an insight instead. An insight is a distilled opinion told from a perspective. But that’s OK too. I’m no longer seeking to know, I’m seeking to understand. 

The more you know the more you realise you don’t know. 

Questions are great because they invite speculation and input and opinions. Answers are closed loops whereas questions are an invitation to socialise. To ask a great question is like reading a choose your own adventure book, there are so many roads you can take and, yes, you tend to want to take the ones less travelled.

These days I’m learning to ask better questions, whether from old Greek masters like Socrates or journalists like Louis Theroux. To ask better questions and sit in the awkward silence. In the limbo of possibilities.

The opportunity to either understand or be more confused is a new itch begging to be scratched. It’s my crack cocaine. In my older age I’ve come to embrace the greywash of ambiguity, and what a great relief to the ego to say that “I don’t know.”

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