There’s a policeman and a sniffer dog
The policeman is eyeing me suspiciously. The dog is nonplussed. The airport assistant asks me, in English, to place my bag on the conveyor belt. I place my bag on the conveyor belt. A heavy thud. The three of us: the policeman, the airport assistant, and I, all watch the fuzzy screen next to the conveyor belt, waiting for my bag to pass through. The dog licks its hind leg. As the bag passes beneath the infra-red camera, a negative image appears on the screen: the shape of my bag, and outlined inside, a human head. The airport assistant sighs. The policeman looks at me sharply, jerking the dog to life. I laugh. It’s not what you think, I say.
This is how a bust of the great philosopher Socrates came to take pride of place on the shelf next to my desk. I was on holiday in Greece and bought the bust as a souvenir. Getting it through airport security was awkward, but not illegal. Silly, perhaps. Unwise. But I was young, arrogant, and cocky, and I thought I’d be cool if I had a bust of Socrates by my desk. Friends would admire my intelligence. Women would swoon. What did I know? Nothing. But then neither did Socrates. At least that’s what he claimed. All I know is that I know nothing, he said. Or something to that effect. He also stank, by the way. Hardly washed and was known throughout Athens as a right whiffer. People don’t concentrate on that detail as much.
But anyway, I must admit as a younger man I was quite taken by his clever quote. It was cheeky, a bit cocky, like I was. Admitting you know nothing is a wilful lie. But by saying it, you inherently suggest you know something, that you are in the possession of knowledge. It’s a blagger’s dream: you get to imply you know stuff, but if anyone calls you out, you can say you said you didn’t know anything.
The bust still sits next to my desk today
I still think a lot about Old Stinky’s famous quip. These days I realise I’m not smart enough to know nothing. I do know some stuff. I know a fair bit about how people’s minds work. I know how to persuade people with language. I know a tiny bit about writing, about spinning a yarn (hence you’re still reading this). So yes, I do know something. But then I don’t know everything. And that’s the key.
I know there are people whose minds work differently to how I imagine. I know my copywriting won’t persuade everyone. I know my writing, to some readers, will seem like a lot of old bollocks. The difference is, when I was a young and arrogant man, I believed otherwise. I thought I knew it all, could cover all the angles. At the time, the suggestion I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, that I was unwise in thinking I knew how the world worked… it would’ve hurt me. I would have worried, become anxious, felt insecure, and I would have doubled down on claiming to know even more.
Today, as an older man, I know I don’t know everything, that there is more nuance to things than I can even imagine. I’ve shed some of the arrogance of my youth. I’m confident I know something, but I admit knowing nothing is a level of knowledge I will never reach. I’m OK with that. Does it mean I’ve become wiser with age? Maybe. Does it mean I’ll stop getting things wrong, stop learning, or stop opening articles like this with seemingly unrelated scenes in Greek airports? Never.
Featured image: Rayner Simpson / Unsplash