By the end of the day, my little store of gray matter has usually thought all the creative, impressive, look-out-world thoughts it’s going to think for the day (if any), and I turn to reading and mental recreation. In that mood, I came across Anne Lamott’s TED talk, “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.”
Her fifteen-minute homily got me thinking. What do I know that’s worth passing along to other people? What matters to me? If I were stranded on an island with twelve other people, what could I contribute to our store of useful knowledge?
One thing I know that isn’t taught widely enough is the process for collaborative problem solving. The steps go something like this:
- Develop a neutral, mutually acceptable statement of the problem.
- Collaborate to research and compile every relevant thing known about that problem.
- Brainstorm (works best if begun individually) every possible solution.
- Choose a solution or combination of solutions to implement, bearing in mind that unforeseen consequences are likely to require further problem-solving.
That’s a deceptively short description of a process that can end wars, save marriages, or keep communities from violent hostility. I’ve seen it work, I know some of parts of the iceberg submerged under those headings, and I use this wisdom a lot in my own life. What is the real, true, simply stated problem I’m up against? Do I have the information I need to solve it?
And so on.
Another aspect of my knowledge toolkit is what I call my Prime Directive, often honored in the breach: When all else fails, and before anything else, be kind and tell the truth. I regard that as the definition of honor–be kind, tell the truth–and it solves myriad moral and behavior conundrums if I will recall and pay attention to it. When I wander from this tent pole, into snark, into prevarication, into self-deception, I invariably wind up tangled in a mess of darkness.
A third eternal verity that has served me well, handed down from my mother, is: Don’t make decisions when you’re tired. Sleep on it. Sit with it. Resist the relief if making any old decision just for the sake of being done with the uncertainty. Let time work its magic, and be patient. (I am NOT patient.)
I could list a few more, but I’m more curious about what’s on your list of eternal verities. If the nice TED Talk people came around and said, “We will immortalize a 15-minute speech given by you on any topic you think would be a helpful addition to humanity’s store of knowledge…” What would your script focus on? What you ask your audience to think about? What do you really, truly know that’s worth passing along?
To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Barnes and Noble E-gift card.