When is it right to say: “I don’t know.” Do we have less power when we claim ignorance (in the proper sense of the word) and admit we have no knowledge on a particular subject? Are we frankly more powerful by appearing to know things? Either by bundling together half ideas and sort-of information or by appearing confident? The first sentence is pretty straightforward: not having the answers is easy. The second is waffly and flowery and generally harder to follow. Something appears to be one thing, it seems one way but really, it’s only a facade of knowledge. A front. Is pretending to know things better than not knowing at all? We are what we make ourselves or how we appear, aren’t we? Or isn’t it: we are what we eat? I could be a hard boiled egg (disappointingly not soft on the inside) or dark chocolate (quite bitter). I don’t know.
I’m sure you know lots of things. How to fly a plane or how to play guitar or how to take blood from a sick person… OK, these are all things that people I’ve known actually know how to do. We all know something. I know French, you know Philosophy, she knows Finance… if we are to bring it back to ‘University knowledge’. But there is a palpable pressure on us to know more. And while we can’t know everything, most of us can certainly bluff our way through a lot of things. In fact, a recent survey found that men, when faced with responding to a question they did not know the answer to, bluffed. And in most cases, they answered correctly. Men, it seems, are more comfortable holding a conversation with someone on something they have little expertise on. Sounds as ambigious as it is. Studies show that women need more certainty before offering an opinion or answer. Females probably won’t push out an answer if they are not certain on their knowledge of it or indeed if they do not have a fixed opinion on it. Men: “If you don’t know the answer, be a chancer.” Women: “Let me just read up on that and get back to you.” Which is the better response? Playing the guessing game or reserving opinion until one has a more soild view? We have two ears and one mouth, yet the mouth seems to be used more than our poor listening instruments. On a biological level, that’s wrong. So should we stop talking and start listening?
Information is Power. We are well and truly living in the Information Age/Modern World of Enlightenment/Age of Google but is information really that powerful now? Say
ing that you know things can actually mean nothing at all nowadays: everyone can know whatever they want. In their bedrooms or 20,000 miles up in the air or in a queue for a cronut (see: left and imagine my sad face.) With a swipe of a finger we can know it all. That sounds powerful, doesn’t it? But it begins to sound, and actually be, less powerful when we realise that most of the world has the same ability to know it all too. The internet has essentially ruled out the “I don’t know” response from 99.9% of conversations. Someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. There is no middle ground anymore. This lack of middle ground has led to negative consequences: one of the leading contributors to anxiety is an inability to manage uncertainty or ‘not knowing.‘ So, we’ve removed that factor altogether, have we? We can know it all and be less sad. Fantastic.
There can be power in not taking the easy way out. In not Googling. In saying: “I have no clue.” In having ignorance. Ignorance is a state of being uninformed or having a lack of knowledge. The word ignorant describes a person in the state of being unaware and is often (incorrectly) used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore information. This all sounds very counterproductive and has led to me to this question: is the Dalai Lama ignorant? I recently heard a story about the Dalai Lama who was attending a conference and there was some sort of audience participation/question and answer round when he was finished giving his speech. A normal person could get their question answered by the Dalai Lama. What would you ask this absolute guru? Deep questions like what is the meaning of life? Who is God? Or quite simply, does he know of a way for me not to lose my bank card? (I’ve misplaced my card twice in 4 months. At the theatre and in Waitrose. I sound stupid and middle class but really, I am just one of these things. You pick.) The Dalai Lama sits in front of an audience with a man sitting behind him in a khaki suit also known as his interpreter and confers with this interpreter, if necessary. (How does one apply for role of interpreter for the Dalai Lama?) I’ve seen videos of him answering questions like:
“Why are so many rich people unhappy?“
He answered in broken English: “That is clear sign: money no ability to provide inner peace.” – PREACH, DALAI!!!
On one particular occasion, the Dalai Lama was asked the question: “What is psychology? What does it mean?” He whispered to the khaki man for about 30 or 40 seconds in front of an audience, who sat in complete silence, hanging off his every word. Finally, he responded: “I don’t know.” When the person adjusted their question thinking that rephrasing it would make it easier for the Dalai Lama, he responded: “Now I am more confused.” He did something more powerful than pretending to know the answer. He was honest in his ignorance. And this statement, coming from a world leader, makes it even more powerful. No one has ALL the answers. Not him, not Barack Obama, not Justin Bieber, not Mary from down the road. We all know this, of course. So why are we expected to or why do we feel the need to bullsh*t about things that we honestly don’t know a thing about. The pressure is there, like, all the time. Do you know what you’d like for dinner? Do you know where you’ll be in 5 years? How are YOU qualified for this job which pays stupidly low and has stupidly high expectations of you? (Note: this is the question I’ve been trying to answer for the last while. Have yet to come up with anything other than: “je ne sais pas.” How liberating would it be to remove the burden of knowing/knowledge/information and just go with it. Into the unknown, like the Dalai Lama, and see how we fair on the other side. See how much we learn.
Perhaps, if we open ourselves up and become vulnerable about our ignorance, we can truly learn something. If we are having a conversation about *current affairs* with a friend, we can say: “I honestly don’t know what’s going on with Syria/Trump/Brexit/Russia“. You may be faced with a confused face at your ignorance at first but more than likely, the other person will try their best to inform you what they know about the situation and you may come away with someone else’s opinion and so be able to formulate your own view. Or you could say something like, “Yea, the situation in Syria is really terrible… refugees… war… bad…” and you look like you know something when in fact, you’ve just put a bunch of words together in a sentence and hope that you sound believable and really come away with nothing. Or maybe you won’t find an answer at all, like maybe the Dalai Lama didn’t find the answer to the psychology question. But he’s still living his badass life despite that.
Come away with more and say less, say: ‘I don’t know.’