When I learn a new English word I immediately see it pop up everything. The book I’m reading just happens to have it, the newspaper article I read the next day uses the word, and so forth.
Driving through Kunming, China today, my host mentioned a Taiwanese brand name I’d never heard of. After he told me I immediately started seeing the brand name on signs throughout the city, signs I’m sure I’d looked at many times before and just didn’t recognize.
When I learn a new word or new idea, I always ask myself, “What did I do before I knew that word? What literally went through my head when I saw that word? Nothingness? Confusion? Did I just not see that sign with the brand name or did I see it and discern no meaning?”
The answer is I read right over the word and my eyes passed through the sign without a second thought.
This, to me, is proof that we can always engage with the world in deeper and deeper ways if our perspective (or vocabulary) is broadened.
Some people live as if the world is static and our job is to slurp it up until the bowl is empty. I don’t think this way. I see the bowl as bottomless because we all have the capacity to re-interpet the millions of images and words life throws at us in a more nuanced, compassionate, and smarter way. So many of these ideas pass through our head unchecked.
The best way to build this capacity, in my view, is to acknowledge the truth of the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” and then consciously commit to widening your perspective (through knowledge acquisition, travel, whatever).
If you don’t believe me on this one, learn a new, relevant vocab word and see if you find it pop up in your readings.