Think about the last time you saw a toddler left to their own will. They might have been sitting in the middle of the room on a blanket, a look of supreme wonder and curiosity painted on their face as they gaze dreamily around the room. Perhaps they crawled or walked (or toddled) over to pick up some new object. They might put in their mouth, smell it, knock it against the wall, or throw it. Anything in an attempt to learn more about their environment.
This period in our lives is when some of our most profound learning takes place. We are discovering the vast world around us and how best to navigate it. We regularly seek out new experiences in an attempt to broaden our knowledge. We explore, test, and experiment constantly. When presented with the undesirable outcome of ouch-that-hurts, or that-block-doesn't-fit-there, or oops-I-fell-down we are unconcerned with our failures or how others might perceive them. We simply learn, choose a new course of action, and continue exploring.
Why do we loose this sense of unrelenting exploration? Is there simply more to learn as a toddler? There is less to absorb after years in the game, slowing or even halting our hunger to learn and grow?
This is absolutely not the case. If I may get a little theoretical and mathy for moment. Compared to an individual human's capacity for knowledge, the body of knowledge available to him/her is essentially infinite. This means that the ratio of acquired knowledge to that which is still available never really shifts from zero.
While perhaps never viewed in these terms, it hold true in every religious/spiritual context. We will never be able to fully understand: the workings of an all-powerful Creator (pick a world religion), the vastness of the known universe (for all you scientists and spiritual/secular people), or even the collective knowledge from every human in history (regardless the timeline of human history that you ascribe to).
The Explorer Mindset
Much like a toddler, the explorer is ever mindful at how much he has yet to discover.
She is not afraid of choosing the wrong direction or making a wrong turn. She knows that, whether it was her intended path or not, wonderful things can lay around any corner.
He seeks new discoveries over all else. Never comfortable in his current views and always striving to expand his knowledge.
She is not afraid to discard old ways of thinking in light of new discoveries.
Losing the Explorer Mindset
We all begin as little explorers, bewildered and in awe of the vastness of the world around us. Why then, do we lose our sense of exploration and yearning for new knowledge?
Once we reach sufficient development to successfully navigate the world around us we become comfortable with our current state and lose motivation to further our knowledge.
We learn to view our current ways of thinking as part of ourselves. Any new exploration means to question a small part of who we are. This is painful.
Our ego takes over and we begin to see any suggestion of alternate ways of thinking as an attack on who we are.
This process left unchecked (or worse, bolstered by surrounding ourselves with only those that share our ideas) can develop into a dismissal that there even exists other valid ways of thinking. This inflated sense of identity is a slippery slope leading to staunch bi-partisan political systems, civil wars, Crusades, and imperialism.
Refusing to acknowledge other's world views or being unwilling to re-assess your views most closely held can become very dangerous. This is the beginning of the path that leads some to hate crimes or suicide bombing.
While most of us will never have the capacity for such heinous violence, we see how detrimental letting our beliefs harden into part of our identity can be.
Strong Opinions, Loosely Held
Our beliefs and values are such intimate parts of the people we are. They shape our every decision, the ways that we navigate the world, and the course that all of our human interactions will follow.
Hold your beliefs dear, for they are product of your every life experience and a representation of the person you are at this present moment.
However, understand the origin of your beliefs. Know that they came from a time when you were open to accept new knowledge. You came to learn to something new, it resonated with you and added value to your life. You eventually came to hold it dear. That is great. Commit to this process.
Be weary to not let those same beliefs close you off from accepting new information.
Learn to view them as transient. We all aim to grow and progress as humans. Our beliefs, while integral to who we are today, must grow and evolve with us.
Drop the ego and learn to always re-assess. Be willing to ask yourself if what you believe is still relevant and still adds value to your life. This is in no way an indictment of your current views; quite to the contrary. Constant re-evaluation to examine and defend your current views will bolster the strength of some beliefs while allowing you to discard others.
Think about this process in a friend. Which friend would you respect more? A friend who is willing to accept new information, re-assess their current beliefs, be willing to admit if/when they have changed their thinking, and give a reasoned argument why; or a friend who stubbornly refuses to hear you out, fails to seek or accept new information, and treats any suggestion to that affect as a personal attack.
One earns respect by demonstrating why they hold such strong beliefs. The other seems childish and closed minded.
Never Stop Exploring
Be an explorer. Never cease to seek new knowledge. Never lose your sense of wonder at how much there is yet to discover.
The existing body of human knowledge and philosophical thoughts are larger than you could possibly absorb in a million lifetimes.
Never forget the infinite thoughts that are left to think and the infinite discoveries yet to be made.
Like the explorer who always seeks to see beyond the horizon or discover what lays beyond the next hill, never be satisfied with where you are.
This is not to breed discontent but to commit to continual growth. Love who you are but know that someone greater is always one step away.