“I don’t know” is the strength of honesty: the courageous confidence that one does not need to appear certain.
“I don’t know” is true intellectual opportunity: the essential ignorance that is the gateway to discovery.
“I don’t know” is willingness to disregard ungrounded assumptions: it is the bedrock of curious inquiry.
Of course, I am not speaking here of ignorance as a willful or wanton disregard of knowledge, but rather of ignorance as the starting point for exploration. The less I purport to know, the more potential I have to learn. It is this sense that ignorance is the spine of learning although, unfortunately, ignorance has become vilified and ignoramus is considered an insult.
The world punishes ignorance. We judge professionals on the comprehensiveness of their knowledge. We grade academic performance on the rote acquisition of the right answers. We crucify leadership who cannot think fast and give an instant answer on the spot.
However, for all our obsession with knowledge, we sometimes forget how much we might be able to learn — and correct our thinking — by admitting how little we actually know. Even though the phrase “I don’t know” has fallen into critical disrepute, don’t be afraid to use it today.
(This post originally appeared in Caesura Letters Volume II: All That We Are, released 03/20/2013)