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The embrace of “I Don’t Know”

Autumn reflection

In my student performance review for my co-op placement, my boss told me I had to stop being a “now it all”.

As standard business decorum regulates; she was delicate about it. Delicate toward this fragile business student in her office. Clinging to every word she said, searching for a sense of validation.

She explained: One day, it could hurt your credibility.

I would answer a question I didn’t really know the answer to because I wouldn’t have built in me the recognition that I didn’t have all the answers. I would have never tried. If I continued answering questions I didn’t have answers to, I would forget how to say “I don’t know”.

Vanishing from my vocabulary.

She encouraged me to try saying: “I don’t know… but I can find out”.

Reassuring me that she wouldn’t think any less of me for saying this.

I became very well skilled in the art of saying “I don’t have any fucking idea”.

While I’m not very familiar with current policy is on this, I’m sure there are procedures in place to ensure that {mention their underlying fear} is addressed.

Sounds fancy?

And now, I find myself, somewhat relishing the “I don’t know”. Although I have dropped the fancy parts, and kept the essentials.

I don’t understand how “I don’t know” is mostly used just as a delicate, soft version of “no”. The “no” for those of us who don’t really have the balls to come out and use the powerful word. I feel their recoil when I say “I don’t know” and they feel a no.

If you don’t have the answer, say it. If it’s a no, then say it.

I took her advice. I say I don’t know, and confidently.

And now. Do you know what’s happened since I’ve become more empowered by uncertainty?

People look at me like I’m rejecting them!

Or that I’m being inappropriately sassy.

Like I’m actually saying no to their face. If I wanted to say no, I would have said that. But I’m not. What I am doing though, is showing them how to embrace something they maybe haven’t learned just yet. This is uncomfortable for most people. I get that.

Yet in the guise courtesy, we’ve forgotten how to say what we really mean.

Why is not knowing something so touchy for everyone?

Is it so far-fetched for us to accept that we don’t have the answers to everything?

As we embrace this uncertainty, we can become conscious of our ignorance. We can understand all the things we know we don’t know.

We can choose to admit courageously, that no, we are not omniscient, all-knowing. And we don’t have to feel bad about it.

It attacks the idea of our ego. The idea that, to be intelligent, we must make intelligent statements. The same statements that we see CEO’s, politicians, journalists, lawyers make.

The idea that our ego could accept the fact that we don’t have all the answers, that this doesn’t conflict with our own idea of intelligence. That we are still capable intelligent, worthy humans. We just are okay with not being an expert in everything.

And, I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed this, but the most educated, intelligent people, won’t speak to topics they aren’t sufficiently informed on.

Rather than make a blanket statement, some sort of judgment, without proper information. They will provide a rationalization, the way they would look at the problem. And from there, perhaps apply some relative context to the topic, and make some sort of deduction. They won’t make black and white statements, because they have taken the time to consider the opposite perspective, and recognize to some degree it’s validity. That what they say – to them, feels right – but to another it could feel wrong.

Furthermore, these intellectuals, for one understand the huge amount of information available and two, recognize that it’s just kinda crazy to expect us to know it all, and third, they are okay with that.

I don’t know everything, I don’t even know something. I don’t even know if I really know the things I think I know.

And, that’s totally fine by me.

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