There are three words everyone needs to learn how to say without hesitation or embarrassment.
I’m not talking about “I love you”, although we need to remember to express our feelings to our dear ones.I’m not even talking about “I am sorry”, or “I was wrong”, two of the most difficult phrases for us to utter.
The words I’m thinking of are “I don’t know.”
We live in a culture of information where “Google” is both a noun and a verb, and it’s just not cool to not know at least a little bit about everything. So we give off an air of expertise about topics from politics to climate change to health care. We can solve everyone’s problem in minutes, suggesting essential oils, baking soda,r yoga, or moving to Costa Rica.
It's about time to admit we usually have little or no idea what we are talking about, and our sources, if we are honest, are the links our friends share on Facebook from who-knows-where.
The fact is, you don’t learn anything new until you admit what you don’t know.
For instance, we recently had a financial adviser from Edward Jones come to our house to explain investing to us and our kids. And hey - I listen to Clark Howard and watch Neil Cavuto, so I know something about investments, right?
Wrong. When Mr. Brenner asked if we knew what mutual funds were, I could say that I’d heard the term a number of times, and could probably make a good guess, but I could not accurately explain what a mutual fund was, how they work, how they are managed, or specifically how investing in one would benefit me or my junior investors.
So I said, “I don’t know”.
It can be difficult to reveal ignorance, or tell someone you have nothing to contribute to the conversation, or admit that you can't help them with a problem. You become a little bit vulnerable when you say "I don't know", and concede your dependence on someone else for information and explanations.
Why are we reluctant to acknowledge our lack of knowledge? Do we really expect to always be able to discuss a large variety of topics intelligently? Are we sacrificing opportunities to learn because we are embarrassed to admit we are ignorant? Is this pretense of comprehension the learning model we want our children to follow?
I remember my dad’s reaction when my brother and I would babble as if we actually knew what we were talking about. He emphasized (and 'emphasized' is a charitable understatement) to us that it was important to say “I don’t know” - not as a shameful admission of ignorance, but as an opportunity to learn something new. Plus, we sounded stupid anyway, which actually was embarrassing!
Hold up the Mirror of Introspection for a minute. When we see someone else acting like a Know-It-All, we don’t find it helpful or charming. We are usually annoyed, and suspicious of their quick answers. That’s what it looks like on us. We are not exceptions.
We don’t lose Parent Points by being an example of honesty, humility, and curiosity. Showing our kids when and how to use these three words is a good lesson for them.
We want our children to learn how to ask good questions, and part of that is saying, “I don’t know, please tell me.”
Next time the urge to pretend to be knowledgeable about something without the support of research, experience, and verifiable sources, take the opportunity to say “I don’t know”, and see what you find out.