You Can Learn From Anyone

You never know about the stuff that you don't know, and you never know what another guy knows. So it is better to keep an open mind about it.

You Can Learn From Anyone
Photo by Diego Gennaro / Unsplash

It took me my entire life to finally learn my father's teaching. And now I feel I have an obligation to pay it forward.

I was a 14 years old teen and my biggest dream was to own a cellular phone.

Nowadays kids come to this world holding their iPhones in their little hands. They take a selfie and they post it to TikTok. And that is how doctors know the kid is healthy. True story.

But 25 years ago life was tough, and phones had weird antennas coming out their tops. And parents didn't buy such devices easily. My parents, less than others.

My only option for getting such a toy was to follow my father in his daily wanderings and help him run his plumber business. I was into the heating/cooling units business, pulling my weight and putting bread on the table with my cool dad. I felt like the man of the manor.

You must know that my dad is cool. Back then, he was THE COOL DUDE. There was practically nothing he wasn't able to do. To this day I still try my best to live up to such expectations. I feel proud of myself when I manage to put up a new shelf on the wall without killing people in the process. Yeah, I belong to those new generations...

But on that day things took an unexpected turn. We were working to fix some old-timer heating unit and the guy was nagging around us telling my father how to do this, how to do that. Telling my dad? Do you even know who my dad is? Shut the actual out old man!

No way, the nagging was endless. And my father didn't even flinch. He was taking it in, thanking the guy for his observations and suggestions. Unbelievable. It didn't make the slightest sense to me. I was in sheer dismay.

On the way home I questioned my dad on the subject: "dad, why didn't you tell the old man that you knew all he told you? Why did you thank him?".

Son, I do have a lot of experience in fixing heating units all right. But truth is that you never know about the stuff that you don't know. And you never know what another guy knows.

You can always learn from anyone.

I thought my dad was drunk only because I didn't yet know he could be high, else I would have thought so.

It took me a short 20 years of struggle to make sense of his wisdom. And here is my current understanding of it.

You never know the stuff that you don't know

Plato figured this out a long time ago. But when I was a young man I was making jokes about this syllogism. It felt stupid in the age when you feel you own the world. As it turns out, you're likely stupid in your twenties.

Truth to be told, knowledge is a double-edged sword:

You can't know what you don't,
and you can't remember what feels like not knowing what you know.

No matter the angle you take, you're screwed in front of knowledge. So it is just easier - and wiser - to use an open mind about it, and try to make the best of any possible situation in which you risk learning something new.

To know that you do not know is the best.
To think you know when you do not is a disease.
Recognizing this disease as a disease is to be free of it

Lao Tzu

You never know what the other guy knows

Can you be absolutely certain that the other guy has absolutely nothing to offer you? Can you?

I guess you can't, like me, like everyone.

Even if the guy you're listening to is wrong, even if someone is doing a silly mistake, you can still learn a new way NOT to do something.

And that is valuable knowledge as well.

Chances are that you can learn new details and some small tricks that will improve your outcomes. Listen to people and you'll learn new jokes that will entertain your boss on the elevator out of the office on a Friday night. It will payout in the long run.

Listening to people make them like you

Often we talk only so to have an audience because we feel important when people attentively listen to us.

I guess that is the explanation for all the high political talks or the evil character's classic monologue.

When people listen to us, we feel good. And when we feel good, it's easier to make concessions or give away favors. Is not by chance that The Godfather was giving away concessions on his daughter's wedding day!

You can weponize this human trait by actively listening to people you want to establish a proficient relationship with.

In my humble experience, it works beyond expectations.

All in all...

My father wasn't aware of all of this. He was going by some old people's wisdom and the way his mentor taught him to handle customers.

Maybe, it was just easier back then, when you couldn't question your mentor, you couldn't do what you thought was right. Maybe back then you just had to go by the "old ways", and that was enough to help to live a good life.

I've been questioning this particular teaching for the largest part of my life, effectively wasting countless opportunities to learn and to build good relationships. But Life is Life, right?

Now I know.