I Don’t Know
A wise person once said that “The more educated someone is, the more likely it usually is for them to pretend they know, when they actually don’t.”
I spend a lot of time reflecting on the past. More often than not, I find myself channel surfing through an endless number of childhood memories. Much of the time, these memories carry a bit of a sting.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not living in the past, wallowing in self-pity, or bathing in trauma. When I remember, I try to drill into what I learned in any specific instance. Some things are one-off situations. These can be difficult to learn from — especially if there isn’t a sting involved.
I started thinking about when I was a kid, and my dad would ask the question that most little boys dread: “Why did you do that?!” My answer was, almost always, what you might expect. “I don’t know.”
Whenever I offered this response to my dad, I could see the frustration wash over his face. I would tense up because I knew what was coming next.
“’I don’t know’ isn’t an answer, it’s a cop-out” dad would say. “When I ask a question, I expect an answer!”
For many years, I looked back on these situations with extreme gratitude toward my father. Forcing me to think about things seemed like the right approach. Refusing to accept anything other than specifics seemed right as well. I loved this lesson so much, that I carried his approach through most of my adult life. Dad was a wise man.
Dad was also wrong a lot of the time. As I reflected on his reaction to “I don’t know,” and the way I’ve emulated it, I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d taught me the wrong thing.
“I don’t know” may not be specific, but there are times when it’s the only honest approach. Most of us were taught some version of “honesty is the best policy,” so why are honest “I don’t know” responses so frowned upon?
There are many things I know. There are infinitely more things that I don’t know, and I’ll never know. I’m actually comfortable with that. I can’t imagine any of you hearing me say that, and shifting uncomfortably in your seats because it’s perfectly reasonable!
So why do I put so much pressure on myself to have ready-made answers for every situation? Why am I more comfortable with guessing (or even outright lying) than I am with exposing my own ignorance?
My dad liked clearly-defined, specific answers. To be honest, those are my preference as well. That being said, I’m starting to see “I don’t know” less like a cop-out, and more like a frame I can put around a learning opportunity or, if nothing else, my own totally acceptable ignorance.
To hear the podcast version of this (and other) stories, visit www.acfischerpod.com