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Hidden lessons in meaningless trivia

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If you're good at something, be proud. False modesty undervalues who you are and what you're capable of accomplishing. Don't worry what others think.

Erick
Rommel

From the youngest age I can recall, I've always had a knack for remembering useless bits of trivia. On any given day, I can forget where I put my car keys, but I know there are 13 states in the United States that are entirely north of Canada's southern-most border.

While some would think random facts are useless pieces of knowledge, I think we retain this ephemera for specific reasons. It includes facts that not only interest us, but also reflect who we are and who we want to become.

I'm going to share three pieces of random knowledge stuck in my head and reflect upon the lessons they reveal for me.

My first random piece of knowledge involves a person -- Dr. Denton Cooley. Dr. Cooley was one of the people responsible for inventing the artificial heart. Once, he was asked in court whether he thought he was the best heart surgeon in the world. He answered he was. The lawyer questioning him pondered whether the answer was immodest and Dr. Cooley responded, "Perhaps. But, remember that I'm under oath."

This quote stands out to me because I always struggle when it comes to accepting praise for my accomplishments. Being singled out feels immodest. Dr. Cooley teaches me something different. While some would say Dr. Cooley's response was arrogant, I see it as confidence.

If you're good at something, be proud. False modesty undervalues who you are and what you're capable of accomplishing. Don't worry what others think.

A lesson related to the opinion of others can be found in trivia connected to the movie "E.T." Many people know the friendly alien loves Reese's Pieces because the makers of M&M's chose not to participate in the movie. What's lesser known is the reason why; they thought the E.T. character was ugly and would scare children.

Boy, were they wrong.

They underestimated their audience and made one of the biggest mistakes in marketing history. They stopped at the superficial and forgot people always see beyond the surface.

While kind hearts can be found, even when hidden, many people don't seek them out. In some eyes, kindness is a weakness. While this tragic flaw of human nature occurs in all ages, it's particularly prevalent during the teen years.

As a result, my third random fact should come as no surprise. According to research from the University of Cambridge, children often have closer relationships with their family pet than they do with their siblings.

The reason is simple and easy to believe. Pets accept you unconditionally and they don't really understand what you're saying (and if they did, they couldn't tell anyone). Equally as important, pets know when you're feeling down and the way they respond often feels like they are empathic to your problems.

Don't we all wish we could have the same empathy? While it would be difficult to feel the weight of others' problems, it would also feel good to know we were making a positive difference and helping others.

The next time a random bit of seemingly useless trivia enters your head, don't immediately dismiss it. Try to find meaning. That knowledge could be your subconscious trying to guide you in the right direction.

For example, my knowledge about states and Canada. I'm still trying to understand what it means, but I know the information is true; I looked it up. Canada's most southern point is Middle Island, which is part of Ontario and located in Lake Erie near northern Ohio. Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin are all to its north.

Now, I just have to find my keys.

Erick Rommel is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.

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