I wish I had paid more attention during that class trip to the Post Office in the third grade. Many of us take mail delivery for granted. It shows up every day, and we don’t question or care about the process by which it gets there, or how the items we leave for the postal carrier make it to the destination printed on the envelope, all for the low low price of 44 cents.
Did you know that all local mail sent to or from any St. Louis suburb makes a trip downtown to be processed before being delivered? I learned that on Friday. Just that little piece of information made me consider the many other things I’m sure I don’t know about the US Mail. That’s why when I went this morning with 4,000 postcards to that magnificent building on Market Street, I said, “I don’t have any idea how this system works, and I don’t want to make a mistake.” Then I asked for help.
It’s okay to ask for help. Many think that’s a sign of weakness, but good people assure me it’s a sign of strength. It’s even more okay to consider, recognize, and admit that there are things we do not know. I mean, seriously. Is it really possible for each and every one of us to know each and every thing? Think of the myriad information out there. We simply can’t know it all.
The idea that we are somehow less because we don’t know something limits us. Why? Because when we aren’t humble enough to ask, we deny ourselves access to really useful information. Most people enjoy the chance to demonstrate their knowledge and talents. Whether it’s how to properly supervise a swimming pool or what window to visit for a bulk mail drop, people are generally happy to help when asked with courtesy and respect.
That’s how we get along in the world, solve problems, and appreciate each other. Each of us has a specialty. Mine is water safety. I am by no means the ultimate authority in my field, but my research and experience have been extensive, and I know a lot. Depending on the topic, I may know more than some of my colleagues. Of course, I also know when I’m out of my league and where to refer a customer with an interest outside my expertise. In those cases, I usually know that I don’t know. But other times, like at the Post Office, I find out on the spot.
Lots of home pool owners don’t know what they don’t know. In the process of building a pool, they learn about plumbing and filters, chemicals and covers, fencing and tile, pool-friendly landscaping and so much more. It’s easy for them to think they know it all. But in the list of discussion topics, safety is rarely given the same attention as beauty or cost, and there are many more opportunities for learning. I hope many of them consider what they may not know about having a home pool.
Many lifeguards, particularly the youngest and newest, also don’t know what they don’t know. They take for granted the systems at their facilities that make it possible for them to hold such awesome responsibility at their age. Things like emergency action plans and station rotations, rescue equipment and where it is strategically located, managers that guides their job performance and deals with patron complaints, insurance policies and workplace procedures that protect them at work. When a teenager touts his certificate as if that alone makes him a capable lifeguard, and sells his inexperienced and under-equipped private services, he exposes himself and his family to huge risks. Does he know that?
People who resist the chance to learn can be difficult, disappointing, and even dangerous. Incapable or unwilling to accept wisdom other than their own, they may fail to serve the people who count on them to have that wisdom. We should all look at something seemingly ordinary, consider what we may not understand about it, and then ask someone to teach us what they know. The exercise alone may widen our scope of knowledge and enhance the human experience.