and the answer is …

Chad and Eric picked me up from the airport as I returned from North Carolina after a few days with my brother and his family. On the way back, we stopped for lunch. During the conversation, Eric commented that he and Chad had held much different views from each other back when they’d been in high school together, but that they were becoming more and more like-minded over time. One has to wonder, how did this happen?

Did they argue one another into agreement on specific issues?

Did one of them switch political parties, swayed by a particularly persuasive Sociology professor?

Did they change to win the affections of girls who happened to share more similar views on things?

In fact, Eric’s answer was one I greeted with an enthusiastic “hear hear!” They were becoming more similar because they were realizing more and more how much they didn’t know. Beyond this, they were willing to admit that they didn’t know what they didn’t know. And that was erasing the lines previous drawn by standing firmly on what they’d thought they knew for certain only a few years prior.

Some guys will tell you that, when they were a kid, they pulled the legs or wings off of bugs. Some might even admit to having combined firecrackers and bullfrogs. I have a confession of my own to make.

I killed a cat.

It’s true. When I was in college, I killed a cat. I not only killed it, it was messy. As others watched on, I bashed its head in with a shovel. Several times, in fact, before the deed was done. I wish the whole ordeal had never happened. But I’m afraid it did.

I’ve confessed this to my closest friends. And even those who know me best were incredulous when I told them. I saw flashes of doubt in their eyes. Is my best friend really a psychopath? They just couldn’t believe that I had ever been the type of person who would do such a thing. But I had to accept that I was the type of person who would do such a thing. Because I did such a thing. With my very own hands.

What do you think of me now? Do you interpret all of my thoughts and advice differently in light of what I’ve revealed here? Are you incensed? Does your stomach churn with disgust? Or have you perhaps granted that I’ve honestly changed my ways and don’t have it in me to do such a thing anymore?

The truth is, I would likely do it again today.

You see, the cat had been hit by a car. Several, actually. I’ll spare you the more vivid details, except to say that the cat was screeching, clawing wildly at the pavement with its front paws—and not going anywhere fast with the rest of its body. Traffic was swerving in dangerous fashion. I pulled over with a friend. He stopped traffic while I took a shovel out of his trunk. And, as quickly as possible, I ended the cat’s pain. I then used the shovel to move the cat’s body to the side of the road, so that traffic could continue safely.

“Wait,” you protest, “you tricked me!”

Did I? Or did you simply not yet have all the details before making a judgment?

I admit, I use this story to illustrate a point. And that is—we rarely have all the details. About anything. Yet we go about life, feeling assured that we do know—and drawing lines with people over it.

I can truly say—with contentment and not angst—that the older I get, the less I know with surety. I realize this sounds philosophical or pious. Even passive. But I mean it. There’s a certain freedom in being able to accept that you don’t have all the answers. That you might be mistaken. That the big picture is infinitely bigger than you’d been willing to admit.

Don’t get me wrong. I have my beliefs, convictions and principles. I live passionately by them. I’m not a relativist (it’s not logical to be one), nor am I easily duped. But rather than doing quite so much “show and tell,” I’ve decided to do more “observe and listen.” Telling says I already know all there is to know. Listening says there may be important details I’ve missed.

It seems to me that, most often, the best answer is to ask one more question.

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