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Excitement, Compassion, Not-Knowing

3As a parent I asked myself the other day (while falling asleep) – what am I modeling to my kid?

And here’s what crystallized in mind: “Only three virtues I know and stand for: Excitement, Compassion and Not-knowing.”

Sure, as a parent, there all kinds of things I need to teach and impart and model to my kid, but these three strike me as most essential in my own life.  So, let me un-pack these three words to help you see what I mean and why these three matter to me.

Excitement: we live once, and even if lived forever, we’d be still only living once; with this in mind, I want to model a stance of excitement about life, I want my kid to develop a sense of awe about this bewildering reality, I want to spare my kid that existentially-suicidal ennui and boredom that comes with losing interest and taking life for granted.

Compassion: we are all connected, in fact, life/reality/universe is one seamless oneness; a stance of compassion is about staying in touch with all that is, with that ant on the side-walk, with that fallen leaf under your feet (it too had a story of being born and dying!); compassion helps us slice through the illusion of self: all is one and one is all.  And I want my kid to also get it that compassion is self-care: if all is one and one is all, then whenever you are pausing to step over an ant on the side walk, you are also saving yourself.

Not-knowing: reality is bewildering, ever-morphing and it is always ahead of us; as information-processing life-forms we are always a phase behind – what we consider to be now is really a moment that has already passed; what this means is that we are epistemologically limited – we cannot really definitively know for sure what the truth is; furthermore, mind is inevitably subjective, full of nothing more than biased opinions… of course, it’d be a long while before I’d use any of these words with my 2 year old to explain the virtue of not-knowing. But I do want my kid to be okay with not-knowing. We are taught to be certain and to act certain even when we aren’t.  This fear of uncertainty creates stress and friction.  We become too categorical, too attached to our fleeting opinions, lacking the tolerance for ambiguity.  I want my kid to grow up not fearing uncertainty and knowing how to enjoy a state of not-knowing.

So, that’s what I mean by 3 virtues that I stand (and, meditatively, sit) for.  Excitement.  Compassion. Not-knowing.  All three can be communicated non-verbally through a sense of awe, a touch of empathy and a calm shrug of the shoulders when you stumble upon something that puzzles you.

[What do we usually teach (by default): Fear, Judgement and Certainty (the importance of being certain). A contrast to consider.]

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Excitement, Compassion, Not-Knowing

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2014). Excitement, Compassion, Not-Knowing. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Oct 2014
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