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You say I know a lot? No. Actually, I don’t know anything

“You know a lot,” one participant told me after a recent presentation about the challenges of social and cultural integration. Obviously, that person is wrong in his appreciation of my knowledge and, after expressing sincere gratitude for his words, I told him so.

“Thank you very much,” I said, “but no, I don’t know much.” At best, I learned a few things before others did it and now, I can now share them.

I should have added "But knowing, no, I don’t know anything." This is not an ostentatious and irreverent repetition of what Socrates once said. In my case, my knowledge is so small that the oracle of Delphi would never even pay attention to me.

If we are going to talk about people not only knowledgeable about endless topics, but at the same time imbued with profound wisdom, then we should talk about my mentor, who for a decade guided me during my studies in philosophy. His patience with me was even greater than his knowledge.

In addition to writing countless books and articles and belonging to numerous academies, my mentor had completed five doctorates in different specialties, always related to humanities. Compared to him, with his exquisite mastery of several ancient and modern languages, with his authority in speaking, with his impeccable reasoning, I know nothing.

And I could never compare myself to my professor of philosophy, with whom I had the privilege of having studied for several years in college. He, in turn, had studied in Germany with some of the most renowned European philosophers of the last century. And then he went back to teach to young, inexperienced, unprepared college students.

But it is not just about people from my past, but also about the present, for example, my daughter who is currently completing a doctorate at a prestigious university. Although I double her in age and have many more years of formal education than she has, I still don’t even remotely reach the knowledge that she already acquired.

Someone may say, and rightly so, that it is irrelevant to know how much my mentor and my teacher knew, or how much my daughter has learned, or, in fact, how little I know. And someone else, probably with the best intentions, will tell me that I should not compare myself with others, because I am who I am and that I should be grateful for what I have learned.

All that is true. But it is also true that there were many lessons that I should have learned, and I didn’t, and others that I should have learned before, but it took me too long to do it. In addition, many lessons I learned and forgot. And an infinite number of lessons I will never learn.

In conclusion, everything I do, say, share or teach is based more on my ignorance than on what others assume I know. In fact, my actions and words openly reveal my ignorance. The wise thing is to recognize it.

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