The Beauty of "I Don't Know"
When nothing new can get in, that's death. When oxygen can't find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing - we had this all figured out, and now we don't.
New is life.
― Anne Lamott
We are a people who cherish answers,. We crave them. And if we're being perfectly honest? We believe we must possess answers...all answers, to anything and everything. And if we don't have them? We will fake them. We will embellish. We will lie. We will dismiss you. We will shame you and assassinate your character. We will share our thoughts without consideration for an alternate reality. We will re-tweet without bothering to investigate. Because we believe we need to know, we believe we need to be right, and more than anything, we desperately believe we need you to know we know.
Or do we?
What happens to us when we exist in black and white worlds? What happens to our relationships when we take up residence in the realm of right and wrong, of believing the thought "it's my job to have answers, it's my job to know what is accurate in every instance?" What messages do we pass along to those closest to us when we believe it is our job to be the proverbial fixer and educator extraordinaire?
There was a time when the saying "nobody likes a know-it-all" was popular. You don't hear it much it anymore. We place great value on being in the know, in our capacity to possess and express our vast knowledge We wear our masks of brilliance with pride, and also with shame. Because we're so terrified of the perceived consequences of being wrong, of not knowing enough. Part of it is certainly due to our living in an age of an overload of information and endless facts. Google has changed us forever, but the motivation for needing to have answers lies beneath the surface. It creates the illusion that if we have the answers we will be safe. We can breathe. We will be revered.
Knowledge is power some say. And in some circumstances this is certainly true. And yet...
Our need to know, to have the answers and to be right robs us of so much. It cripples wonder. It destroys curiosity. It smashes any hope of humility. It immediately shuts down the possibility of conversations rich with complexity. It steals from us fascinating experiences. It breeds arrogance. It feeds insecurities. It restricts us and shrinks our ability to think critically. It holds others back from the opportunity to be an expert, especially in their own lives. As long as we're telling you what we believe to be true we're denying you the opportunity to discover, and express, your own truth, your own ideas. We are denying ourselves the opportunity to join you in your world. We are dying in all our knowledge. We are suffocating in our vanity.
Earlier this summer my husband and I spent a week hiking in Glacier National Park with friends. In the middle of the park there was no cell reception or internet. One night at dinner we found ourselves in a 15-20 minute discussion about whether bison and buffalo were the same animal or not. Everyone at the table presented their opinions and varying degrees of expertise (or lack there of in my case). It wasn't until my husband and I were back in our room later that night that I realized I could not recall the last time I had experienced, the pure bliss of simply having a discussion, of wondering as a group what might be, without anyone being able to whip out their phone and instantly end the discussion. Wading comfortably around in the pool of not knowing, and being so totally OK with the"huh, I don't know. What do you think?" It was Heaven. I miss that. I actually forced myself to wait an extra two days after returning to "civilization" (Ok I lasted 24 hours, but they were a long 24 hours) before allowing myself to pull out my laptop and research the topic, because the not knowing for certain was so delicious. Granted, the issue at hand involved wildlife and as such might be considered relatively inconsequential. However, I firmly believe mystery is greatly absent from many of our lives. I also believe we've stop bothering to really get to know each other.
I have a confession to make. I really struggle with this in my personal life. As a therapist I live in, and love, the world of "tell me more because I so want to know what you think." I do not believe it is my job to have all the answers, because ultimately my job is help you discover who you are; what your answers are. There exists layer upon layer of mysteries to unfold. There is always another question to ask. As a friend, mother, spouse, sister, aunt? While I am so much better at this than I used to be I am undoubtedly a work in progress. I fall endlessly into the trap of reaction, of believing my loved ones require me to have an answer, that they are looking to me to fix whatever they are presently faced with. And each time I stumble down that path I fail. I fail them, and I deeply fail myself. I miss a beautiful opportunity to expand my world. Luckily there is always a next beautiful moment waiting right around the corner if I am willing to get over myself and simply be present. There is always so much more to learn.
So the next time you feel compelled to share your brilliance with those around you, the next time you feel the need to answer, debate, fix, educate, justify or defend....take a deep breath, count to ten, and then respond with any version of "hmmm I don't know, that's interesting...what do you think?" Ask follow-up questions from a place of divine curiosity. And then really, truly listen. Allow yourself to be open to what others were sent to teach you. And prepare for your world to be blown wide open, your mind to be challenged and your heart to grow. Life is not black and white, and believing it is imprisons our souls. It is lived in the heart of varying degrees of grey, of endless differing perspectives. When nothing new can enter our minds we cease to thrive. We have misplaced the ability to evolve.
Peace & Love Always