You don’t know what you don’t know

Lots of time, people think they know what other people are thinking, especially in close relationships. As a result, it’s not just misunderstandings that happen lots of the time, it’s also about the fact that people are outside of other people’s worlds, and they really don’t know what they don’t know.

Here is my family’s story:

Scene 1:

“Mom, you have the easiest life in the family.” My son always expresses his feelings to me.

I asked why he thinks that way. He said: “You have two big computer screens at work and what you do is just playing on the computer all day long. That’s your job. I hope I can have that type of job to sit at a computer all day long, one day.”

“John, I am not “playing” on the computer, I am working on the computer. The computer is a tool to help me do my job.” I understand that in John’s eyes, a computer is an amazing machine, which is for him to play games on. He has a “Don’t eat me” nickname in a computer game.

“No, I know that what you do is playing the computer, like what I do.” He insisted.

“I use the computer to work, as my job needs to be done with a computer. And I use the mobile phone to communicate with my friends and colleagues.” I tried to explain to him a few times. “And I use a computer to do online learning and blogging, and sometimes I watch Netflix, when I have time. However, the computer is more like a tool for me to learn, to search for information, study, and work. ” But John could not understand, in his world, the computer is mostly for fun – to play games, to watch YouTube videos and recently he has started to visit the school’s website to look at his grades, comments from the teacher and videos from school. A computer is more like an entertainment device to John.

Scene 2

One day on the way to his piano lesson, I told him that I wanted to learn Spanish and to swim one day when I have time.

John said, “No, you will never learn them well as you are not a smart person.”

I was so discouraged, “Why do you think Mom is not an intelligent person? If I am not clever, how can you be a smart boy?”

“That’s what Dad said,” John answered.

“Dad sometimes does not understand me either. “ I have a husband who always enjoys discouraging his wife. But I still want to show to my son that he, in fact, has an excellent mother. So I continued the conversation, “For example, I completed my MBA study as a foreigner using a second language in another country. That proves something, right? I am not the person you think I am.”

“No, Mom. An MBA is the easiest thing in the world. Everyone can complete an MBA.” John continued in the same way. “What I do is the most difficult. You can’t imagine how I practice piano every day. You can never do that in your life , because you don’t know learning the piano learning is so hard.”

“Yes, I think it’s not easy. As I haven’t had a chance to learn piano yet in my life, maybe I can consider it as my future goal when I have more time…” I said.

“You will never learn how to play piano as it’s too complicated for you,” John said with pride on his face… Sometimes I feel like I am looked down by my own family!

“Well, if not piano. I want to learn Spanish and swimming.” Son, are you sure you know me? Could you give me some confidence? I thought.

“How can you learn Spanish well? Your English is even not perfect.” John said.

“I know I have an accent, as I learned English in China. But I am improving, and I am clear in communicating. Nobody misunderstands me.” How can I prove to my son that I CAN achieve my dreams?

Scene 3

“Mom, why do I need to study but you don’t? You just go to work and play on the computer, then come back home to cook just a few dishes and that’s your life. Why do I need to read and go to afterschool class. I have no time to play?”

“Well, son, my job is not easy. I have targets and tasks to achieve. Sometimes I have a limited time to finish my work, and I have goals to keep up with the trends as the world is changing so fast; it’s not easy for me to cook three dishes every night as well, as you have afterschool classes every night after dinner. I usually only have 30 minutes to prepare the three dishes for you. I don’t want to feed you fast food as it is not right from a nutritional point of view. Driving you to those after school classes is also not an easy job; I have less time to do the stuff I want. In winter, it’s so dark and sometimes there are showers and heavy rain. I need to be quite focused to drive especially to other cities, and I have to cross several highways. A driver’s job is not as easy as a passenger’s, who can sit back and listen to music; last but not least, I worked very hard when I was a student at your age. And I finished my part-time MBA this October while working full time and taking care of you my son. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know how hard I work after you go to bed.”

cartoon illustration of a boy talking with his mom isolated on white

Above are the recent conversations between John and me. In the bigger world, new technology and inventions are vastly changing daily life.

We have got used to staying in our small world, and we don’t even know what we don’t know as we think our world is the almost the whole world.

Do we know that AI (artificial intelligence) is quickly approaching? If a machine can grasp the learning curve and do what humans can do, aren’t lots of jobs going to be replaced? Do we know that the flight time between Vancouver and Shanghai will be shortened to 5 hours in the next few years? Do we realize that telecommunications companies are being replaced by internet companies? People don’t need a land phone to make phone calls? Do we understand that the traditional banking model is facing a big challenge as we now can pay lots of bills using ApplePay or WeChat pay?

What we need to do is to step out of our world and try to understand the world outside of us. Don’t make judgments if we don’t know. We also need to keep learning to reduce the gap, between what we know and what we don’t know.