Resilience Tip - When Knowledge Can Hurt


Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks. While some people are naturally more resilient than others,resiliency can also be intentionally developed.

When Knowledge Can Hurt

"It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning." (Claude Bernard) Curiosity is one of the characteristics of highly resilient people. Sometimes it is relatively easy to be curious. And sometimes we shut down our curiosity without realizing it. Why shut down as opposed to open up? Children are innately curious about their world, forever exploring, forever asking questions. Sometimes curiosity has been shut down through teachings such as "curiosity killed the cat". (I wonder, how many cats were actually killed by curiosity compared to how many cats thrived better than their peers due to their curiosity?! Perhaps it is not a question of being curious or not, rather taking that moment to evaluate value and risks involved in acting upon this curiosity.) As Claude Bernard suggests, one of the things that can kill curiosity is knowledge.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. Knowledge keeps us from having to continuously reinvent the wheel. Accumulated knowledge can help us tackle problems from a wider and deeper perspective. However, being too confident in our knowledge can stifle our curiosity.

You  may have heard statements such as these: "I know I have a problem with anger, that's why I keep getting into trouble with my friends." or "I'm just no good at public speaking, so I won't get that position I want." I would not say that either of these statements are necessarily false. Perhaps they are even true, but they are insufficient because the person speaking them is still wanting to change or advance something in their life. And, "knowing" this has not moved them forward. Additionally, too often the person has stopped being truly curious about the whole situation because they already "know" that they have a problem with anger, or they already "know" they cannot speak publicly. Instead, "If you know you have a problem with anger that is causing troubles in your friendships, how might you handle your anger so it interferes less with your friendships?" "While you may have had difficulties with public speaking until now, what might you do today to improve in this area?" In other words, why shut down your curiosity just because you have hit upon a certain amount of data. If the problem is continuing, continue to look for more data.

Similary, in trying to solve a technical problem, what technical "knowledge" may be preventing you from continuing to be curious, from thinking out of the box. This is when people new to a field can be extremely helpful by asking the "stupid" question that breaks deadlocked thinking, "stupid" as in lacking knowledge that may keep others within a confined way of viewing the issue. Also interpersonally, "She's always late, that's just her, there's nothing that can be done about it." Even if the knowledge "she's always late" is true, might this knowledge be preventing curiosity and learning that could ease the situation? Might there be ways of communicating to the person, or of relating to her lateness, that would make the situation easier?

Knowledge is wonderful, and, check to see where your knowledge may be interfering with your curiosity. Particularly when a difficulty or challenge continues, it is likely time to look beyond what we "know", in order to stay curious and flexible for resilient responses that will move us closer to where we want to be.