Knowing Only Halfway
By: Josh O'Shea, Young Adult Librarian
I have a tendency to get anxious when I don’t know everything about something I feel I should. Sometimes I become paralyzed by the anxiety, which stops me from beginning in the first place. In college, I’d look for so many different sources trying to understand every little detail of the subject that I left little time to make my own argument. I’d consider the question I wanted to answer, and I’d overwhelm myself with the different ways I could address it. As a librarian, I feel silly when I don’t know an answer from memory to a question. Even now, writing this, I feel I must cover all possible aspects of this topic for me to write a good essay. If I have this experience, I think there may be others who experience the same thing.
What can we do when we feel insecure? When we become anxious about the limits of our knowledge?
A powerful emotion I get is to do nothing. Should we do nothing, letting these gaps in our knowledge stop us from speaking or writing about something important to us?
We want to kick away anxiety and worry and realize it’s okay to feel overwhelmed in a pursuit to know as much as we can about a subject. We can be okay with ourselves when we realize we don’t have to have perfect knowledge about a topic. Worry and anxiety are roadblocks to getting what we need. Sometimes we can deal with struggles like worry and anxiety on our own; sometimes we need help from loved ones or professionals and we should never be ashamed of asking for that help.
Truth is, there’s so much information and interpretation on any given topic that we’ll never know all there is to know on one subject. But maybe we should aim to know things halfway. Halfway means we know a part, a portion, of what there is to know, or a good chunk of what’s possible to know. It should be good quality; it means we work hard to understand. It doesn’t mean 50% or any other exact measurement because there is always more to discover, or more ways to interpret. Knowing 100% is impossible. When we recognize that we can know things only part way, we can stave off the anxiety and petrification of not knowing everything. When we take to heart that we cannot know everything, that we can know halfway, we become empowered to start a project — and to finish it.
We should research and engage sources, talk with people who live in relevant situations or who are experts, and do our best to look at an issue from all sides. Doing so inspires us to continually learn and grow; keep pushing, keep acquiring knowledge, and keep gaining wisdom. It’s okay for us to change our opinion because of new information presented. All of us only know so much (but not everything) on a topic, which forces us to work together toward understanding. Working together is building community.
Realizing we will never fill all the gaps in our understanding empowers us to never stop trying, whether we’re trying something fun or required. We’re always learning and adapting. Sometimes feeling unsure about something means we should dive in so that we can grow; it always means we should find out more to see if it’s right for us. Nobody knows 100% about everything, and that’s okay. If we accept the idea that there’s so much to learn that knowing something halfway is actually a lot, we can start to feel fine with knowing we don’t know everything; this empowers us to start, to keep trying, to always be learning.
Below are some book recommendations where the main character takes a journey of understanding:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
Denton Little’s Still Not Dead by Lance Rubin
I Stop Somewhere by T. E. Carter
Nice Try Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke