In my last post I described “knowing” as a way to close the door to new ideas that take you into the unknown. In this scenario, saying “I don’t know” can open that door—if saying it stimulates you to shake up your certainty and to explore.
However, saying, “I don’t know” in different situations can keep you on the wrong side of a closed door.
Children know how to work this response.
“How did your floor get all wet?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is your sister crying?”
“I don’t know.”
This is also called lying, and often when we say we don’t know, we’re lying to ourselves. Maybe not often, maybe even always.
“I don’t know” closes and locks the door especially if it has a definite and final sound. It sounds like this: “I don’t know (and I never will). If you listen carefully, you may discover that “I don’t know” really means, “I don’t want to know” (and I have my reasons).
“How can you solve this problem?”
“I don’t know.” And I don’t want to know, because I’ve learned to live with this problem. If I solve it, I KNOW that a new problem will arise, and I won’t know how to live with it.
Or “If I know the answer, I’m going to have to act on it, and that might mean doing something uncomfortable.”
Here’s an example from my own life. Social media generally intimidates me. I have made a promise to myself to master their mysteries, but each new attempt can leave me feeling helpless.
So I DON’T KNOW.
Recently I realized why I didn’t want to know. Being at least semi-reclusive, the idea of networking sounded like going to a huge party where one knows nobody and circulating aimlessly with a drink in hand or paying excessive attention to the food. That was the best-case scenario.
Here’s the worst case. To launch my poor, vulnerable self into the vast sea of social networking felt like swimming in an ocean infested with sharks, piranhas, barracudas, and, quite possibly, poisonous eels. (Yes, all you nice people.) I might make social mistakes, violate rules, and attract attention I didn’t want, or have other yet-unimagined disasters occur.
I don’t say that this discovery instantly solved my social phobia. It did, however, free me from the idea that I was just stupid because I didn’t know what a hash tag was. It meant that, rather than being ruled by a hidden fear, I could bring that fear out into the open and dust it off and decide whether I wanted to keep it.
What matters at this stage is that I have choices. That feels a lot more powerful than saying “I don’t know” and bumping my head into a brick wall or closed door.
Getting out of the “I don’t know” rut sometimes has to be accomplished in stages.
Stage One may be simply listening for the familiar sound of “I don’t know.” This can sometimes halt automatic behavior.
Stage Two may be asking yourself why you don’t know and why you don’t want to know, as I did about social media.
Stage Three involves a shift. Say to yourself, “I don’t know, but I can.” “I don’t know, but I can find out.” “Even though I haven’t wanted to know, I might be a little curious.” “Even though I haven’t wanted to know, it might be fun to see what happens if I found out.”
Maybe it would be.