I am excited to move into a new, empty apartment. I tell my friend. It’s going to be an open, clean slate and it’ll be nice to be settled in, get some furniture, and make it mine.
Tabula rasa, my friend says. We go back and forth for a few minutes before I realize they are speaking Latin and I have to open a Wikipedia page on my computer to keep up.
“Tabula rasa is the theory that individuals are born without built-in mental content, and therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception.”
Oh, I like that, I tell them. I need to think about that more.
As I’ve been preparing to move for basically the seventh time in the past five months and settle into an apartment with my name on the lease for the first time in 2 and a half years, I have been thinking about blank slates. Sure, I’ve been going through the moving checklists: buy a bed, set up WiFi, decorate with cool art. But I’ve also been thinking about what tabula rasa means in my life.
I have another friend who always kindly indulges me in reruns of Jeopardy! and, when we get to a category that I’m not particularly strong on, always gently reminds me that knowledge is incidental.
The first time they said this to me, I believe it was in reference to my not knowing about a specific topic that most would consider “common knowledge.” I believe I said something about, “I know it’s weird to not know anything about that at our age.”
Knowledge is incidental, they told me. This isn’t your experience or even an interest of yours. I wouldn’t expect you to know anything about it.
It’s now a common phrase between us—the idea of incidental knowledge. It’s also something we both take personal responsibility for. If we want to learn something, we’ll learn it. We may not have happened upon it in our everyday worlds, but if we want to learn, it’s up to us to do so. And, at the same time, if we don’t want to spend the time because it isn’t of interest, then we’ve only opened up more brain space for the stuff we are actually excited about.
At a recent work conference, I heard Jaime Casap, former chief education evangelist at Google, say “I’ve chosen not to be good at it.” The ability to learn is critical. The ability to prioritize what we learn and how we spend our energy, even moreso.
I’m moving into a new apartment this weekend. Empty cupboards. Clean floors. Open space. And it’s up to my roommate and I to turn it into a home. To fill the cupboards with my go-to baking supplies. To leave a welcome mat by the door. To create a place that feels welcoming and safe and lovely and ours.
If I were to do that with myself, where would I start? If I were to take spring cleaning to my mind, what would I get rid of? What fears or insecurities would I let go? What knowledge and new learning would I seek out? How would I build my blank slate in a way that best serves my heart and the people around me?
How will you create an environment—both internally and externally—that honors growth, honesty, love, and compassion? How will you learn to color your canvas?