Maybe We Don’t Need to Know

Something strange happened to me on Thursday. In the afternoon I heard a helicopter circling and peered out my window to identify its location. When I looked out my bedroom window, I spotted not only the helicopter above me, but also a swarm of police cars on the street behind my house. I’m on a hill so the cars were not directly behind me but I could still see them.

I jumped on Twitter and used all the hashtags that came to mind to determine why police cars and a helicopter parked near my house. I googled local news and even called the police nonemergency number. After waiting on hold for nearly 10 minutes I hung up. I couldn’t find an answer to my question. I thought about walking up to a police officer and asking about the fuss, but then I questioned that. “Do you really need to know? Maybe it’s better if you don’t.”

Does this person need to know what they’re walking on or is it better if they don’t, being a sewer and all? Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Confession, although I suspect you already guessed this about me, I don’t watch true crime. I’m not a Law and Order junkie, or a CSI fanatic. I don’t enjoy murders and murder mysteries because I’m too sensitive. That means my brain doesn’t come up with gruesome scenarios, and let’s be honest, reality is much grimmer than my personal imagination. Some of the things people do to one another would never occur to me. But if there are police cars and a helicopter involved, the situation is probably not because someone accumulated parking tickets. Do I need to know that person lives nearby? I do not. (Note: If your google search is more fruitful than mine, please don’t tell me why the police visited my neighborhood unless it is for something innocuous like littering.)

This perspective is a huge shift for me because I want to know everything. My brain tells me I’ll be safer if I know all the details. But is that really true? Does knowing about a murder in Omaha make me safer here in Oakland? Or does it only succeed in making me scared to go to Omaha? All weekend I’ve wrestled with this, itching to check Twitter to find out what happened on Thursday. I resist because once I learn something, that information cannot be unlearned. It’s like trying to suck toothpaste back into a tube.

What also comes to mind is the converse of what I’ve shared: If I need to know something, I will. My higher power will arrange things so I find out information. I’ll run into someone at a party, I’ll overhear a conversation on the street, etc. I searched for a quote here from my spiritual teacher to throw in and came across this one: “[T]he source of physical knowledge is bound up by time, space, and person. With the change of time, space, and person, physical knowledge will change. Hence it is not a permanent knowledge.”

I derive comfort from that quote because it means even if someone awful lives behind me now, it doesn’t mean they always will. Maybe knowledge, like safety, is a snapshot in time. And if it’s a snapshot in time, what’s the point in scaring myself right now?

I dream of a world where we recognize sometimes it’s better to stay in the dark. A world where we realize if we’re meant to know something, we will. A world where we understand sometimes we don’t need to know.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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