The Power of “I Don’t Know”

We’re surrounded by information. Multiple devices deliver news, opinions, hot takes and imagery to our palms, laps, desks and walls every moment of every day. We have the world, past and present, at our fingertips.

So it’s understandable that to ‘admit’ ignorance is challenging. Mmmh challenging is probably too gentle a term. Many of us will duck, dive and manipulate the situation every which way to avoid saying those dreaded three words. I. Don’t. Know.

It hurts our ego to acknowledge a blind-spot. But why? Why are we so bound up with being seen as accomplished in every facet of every topic? And how does this fear, because it is good ol’ fear ladies and gentlemen, actually stop us from learning anything more than what we already ‘know’?

Mistakes are GOOD!

It’s no secret that I have fairly strong feelings about capitalism and the patriarchy, because they’re horrendous. Through these two lenses we’ve developed the sense that mistakes aren’t just ‘bad’, they’re a referendum on our actual character as people.

So when I fuck up, often it’s not just the act that’s condemned, it’s me as a human. Because when people feel so tied to ‘goodness’ they’re easy to control en masse … hi Catholic Church (and so many more, I just have first-hand experience of the nightmare that is the CC).

But, as we know, mistakes aren’t just normal, they’re how we learn. We make an error, it’s highlighted and we experience the consequences, from which we hopefully grow. We don’t learn through ease. We learn through challenges – be it a developing curriculum or life events.

So, mistakes are good if met and dealt with in a constructive manner. Otherwise we end up chasing our tail, repeating the experience as it gets more and more challenging. Like a good teacher, the Universe will keep pushing you until you learn … and if we’re particularly distracted students, it may have to push us to the ground before we see the light.

Enter ego

So we can acknowledge that making a mistake or error or having a blind-spot can actually be an opportunity to grow. But wait, why do we cling to being ‘right’, to knowing it all, to not being found ‘wanting’? Ah, yes, hiya Ego hun.

We move through life associating ourselves with certain labels – daughter, student, mother, wife, educated, fit, clever, funny, victim, #woke. These are the ways we’d probably introduce ourselves to someone new, or how an acquaintance would describe us.

The more we’re tied up with these labels, the more we hit ‘flight or fight’ mode when they’re threatened. So if I consider myself ‘fit’, someone questioning my routines or my diet is likely to trigger an emotional response for me. Because if I’m not ‘fit’, what am I?

So here’s where this ties into what we’re talking about. We all consider ourselves ‘smart’ in some way. Be it in relation to our formal education, the books we’ve read or the experiences that we’ve lived #streetsmart. Society rewards intelligence and punishes ignorance. Nobody’s going to pay the fool the big bucks, right. So we’ve become so linked with maintaining that label, we panic when it’s threatened.

You can observe this easily in yourself and others. It happens daily. The customer feeling the need to exert dominance over the server, the friend who’ll argue the sky is green, the troll who always has to have a comeback to a post they disagree with. We have to know better! And the ego skips into the sunset, happy and full.

Every Action …

So we’re living in this bizarre, unconscious, self-created cage. It’s high pressure, particularly if you’re surrounded by those who also buy into their ‘smart’ labels bigtime. And it’s exhausting because, for completely no reason, we continuously feel like a fraud.

The world is a wide and wonderful place and most of us only experience a fairly limited glimpse of it. It’s not going to take long for someone to know something we don’t. But we’re all in our ‘smart’ label. So we don’t want to admit we don’t know. So we scramble for ANYTHING we can talk about that’s remotely related to the topic at hand. Worst comes to worst, we not along in agreement and hope, for the LOVE OF GOD, things don’t go deeper.

And that’s where we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face. Let’s play out a different scenario…You’re facing a topic you’re less than versed on. Your companion in conversation is waiting you reply on fly-fishing or ancient Greek dietary habits or whatever. Instead of making shit up, which is what we normally do, we simply say, ‘you know, I don’t know much about the fly preferences of salmon, do they like pink because they’re pink?’. Ok the last bit is probably not what you’d say, but you get where I’m coming from?

In Practice …

Now you’ve ‘admitted’ ignorance. You’ve a couple of options going forward. If it’s a topic you genuinely have zero interest in, or you don’t want to continue in conversation for whatever reason, it’s enough to say ‘I don’t know’. Likely the fly-fishing expert will see that you’re not going to feed further into THEIR label as such, and so will move on fairly quickly.

Or, say it’s a topic you’re into. You’ve said you don’t know. Follow it with, ‘what’s your opinion?’. And look at that, you’re learning something! I’m aware this has veered into Conversation 101, but we need this shit. By asking for more information you’re not only likely to learn something new. You’re also being vulnerable with this other person. People like people who are genuinely vulnerable. Win-win.

Ok third scenario – it’s a work thing. Maybe this is something you really should know. Or maybe this is your wheelhouse and, though you’re not blamed for your ignorance, it’s still your responsibility to come up with answers. You’ve admitted not knowing. How about a follow-up of ‘leave it with me and I’ll find out the specifics’? Look at you, learning again!

The Aftermath …

Imagine growing up in a house where your parents said ‘I don’t know’ and came back to you with more information later. What about a school experience that didn’t centre around teachers who thought themselves invincible and, inevitably, got annoyed when that label was threatened.

How would that impact how you relate to the world? How would that have fed your genuine confidence and curiosity?

Could this change breed a society where curiosity, rather than answers, were prized? The ‘what if’, just as important as ‘this is’. The energy freed up from the endless race to stay one step ahead, diverted into actually learning. Hearing lived experiences about other races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, abilities, financial situations and really receiving the information. Rather than meeting it all with an attitude of ‘this doesn’t fit with what I know for sure’.

Starve the Ego, that Relentless Bitch!

The side benefit of this practice? The ego is left hungry. We are acting out of love, not fear. We are disengaging from a label. We are getting closer to the real Self.

Because we are not the labels we ascribe to. We cling to them to avoid the vast, limitless, undefinable Self inside each one of us. It keeps us nice and neat in little boxes, separate from our true Selves and separate from the Universal Self.

You see, if we don’t buy into all those labels we don’t see external gratification. We don’t seek to fill voids, to prove worth with things. Because, by simply being, we recognise ourselves as divinely, innately worthy and sufficient. Ciao capitalistic vultures preying on insecurities!

All that … from three simple words …

As always, put it to work, one day at a time. Take the practice for 21 days and come back to me, gorgeous.

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