There was a trivia game that I played on my computer a lot growing up. You were in a mansion, and the rooms made up a maze. The object being, of course, to get to a particular room. In each room you were presented with a few doors. But before you could go through a door, you had to answer a trivia question. And before each trivia question, you would be read an inspirational quote. The only one I can remember now is “To know that you do not know is the best.” It was said by Lao-tzu, a Chinese philosopher. Obviously, this is something that has stuck with me. The second line of the quote (which, to the best of my memory, was not in the game) is “To pretend to know when you do not is a disease.”
I remember going to the student health center in college. The doctor had a huge reference book on his desk and referred back to it during my appointment. Afterwards, while speaking to a fellow student, I learned that he did the same thing with her. She told me it made her worried and that she thought he was a quack. I didn’t share that feeling at all. It made me feel like he wanted to be thorough and to make sure he would give me the best possible care he was capable of. Another time I went to a doctor and was prescribed an antidepressant (I have PTSD), and I asked my doctor, an OBGYN, if this drug was safe to take while pregnant and what the potential side effects were. She shrugged and said “well, it’s safer than not taking it.” Needless to say, I was not impressed by the quality of care she provided and found another doctor. I asked him the same question. He furrowed his brow, said he didn’t know, and consulted a book. Which doctor would you trust more?
I am not afraid of saying “I don’t know.” It’s not a fault, it’s an opportunity. Being afraid of saying “I don’t know,” like Lao-tzu said, is a weakness or a disease. It shows that you are not curious and are not willing to be wrong or to learn. I know that professionally this particular fearlessness is not something that always works in my favor. It makes me seem inexperienced and not confident. But I refuse to adopt a false knowing air, no matter how many times my husband complains about it when we’re out socially and I have to talk about my work. Those who have hired me have been more than satisfied with my work and recommended me to many others. And this method of finding employment (word of mouth and recommendations) has been way more effective for me than pretending at cocktail parties. I know. I’ve tried it both ways. (Also, I get the added bonus of often being underestimated by my opponent my way. Like Joe Pesci from My Cousin Vinny.)
It frightens me when I see so many of our leaders afraid to say “I don’t know.” It frightens me that so many people see it as a sign of weakness. Since it’s almost the election, everyday I hear a different political speech or answer to a question that just wreaks of lazy thinking. I know (or so desperately want to believe) that if the politician took the time to actually think about his answer or position, he would realize how ridiculous he sounds. But god forbid we admit that we don’t have all the answers. God forbid we actually try and find them.