I Don’t Know.

How many times a day do you catch yourself saying “I know”?

We always… know. It’s not often we don’t know something. We readily assert our supposed knowledge on situations as if there’s nothing more left to know. We begin sentences with “I know” and we end conversations with “I know”. We are quick to know the situation without viewing it, the context without the background score, and the story without even hearing a word of it. We know the people we’re talking to, be it our loved ones or random strangers we exchange words with. We know the roads we’re driving on without a map in our hands, the turns we’re taking without planning to, and the destinations we’re heading towards with no finish line in mind. We know the food we’re eating, the water we’re drinking, and the air we’re breathing. We know what it is to act without thinking, to think without feeling, and to feel without caring. We have an infamous response to it all – “I know.”

We say it so easily, the words slipping out as an unconscious manner of speech. There are small everyday moments, like when somebody stops us and asks for directions to a place we’re unfamiliar with and yet we make the misguided effort to stammer out some sort of response. We say “I know” in annoyance when a well-meaning parent advises us on the risks of our immature actions, when a teacher says we should have studied harder for the test, or when the backseat driver expresses displeasure that we almost ran a red light. We say “I know” with displeasure when a lover talks in circles, when a classmate excuses the need to borrow our notes (again), or when our boss says we will have to put in more hours. There are also times the response comes as a natural part of our interaction with someone else, particularly when we’re consoling them, encouraging them, or just lending a listening ear. We automatically say “I know” to reassure them that we understand, we care, and that we empathize. Then there are the times we say “I know” as a way to escape acknowledging, listening, and understanding something we know nothing about. When someone tells us something radically different we say “I know” to distance ourselves by not welcoming such a viewpoint within ourselves. When someone brings up debatable statements, controversial thoughts, and sensitive subjects, we say “I know” to quickly brush aside the possibility of entertaining a different perspective. We say “I know” to interrupt someone who speaks of topics we’re not interested in. We firmly close the door, lock the windows, and draw the curtains… all within the two words of “I know.”

But do we really know?

Most of these responses are cover-ups. Some of them are ways we try to brush irksome things aside, things we don’t particularly want to be hearing or admitting or understanding. Some of them slip out in moments of weakness, confusion, or helplessness. Sometimes we use the words “I know” as a shield, protecting ourselves from notions we’re not quite ready to acknowledge or accept. Sometimes we use it as a weapon, to lash out at the perpetrator instigating the opening of a Pandora’s box which we would much rather keep shut. A lot of the times we hide behind it, to protect our inadequacies and our shortcomings. We also say “I know” to stroke our ego, to allow ourselves to feel rather knowledgeable, and to project an image of being well-informed. We say “I know” because we genuinely feel like we know – we know everything there is to know.

Oh, but we couldn’t be further from the truth.

Knowing is not a state of being. It is a lifelong process. It is a quest. Gathering knowledge never stops. What you knew before, you might not know today. What you know now, you might not know tomorrow.

So when you feel the words “I know” on the tip of your tongue, stop for a second. If you even have an inkling of a doubt or a flash of a second thought, give yourself permission to pause, and say “I don’t know”. Say it with humble acceptance, with genuine openness, and with the curious desire to actually know. Don’t be afraid to admit to not knowing, to reveal that there are gaps waiting to be filled, and that you don’t have the answer to everything. It makes you vulnerable, but it also makes you receptive. The most powerful admission is to concede you don’t know something.

Only when you accept you don’t know, you can learn.

Only when you open the door, you can peek inside. Whether you learn more about yourself, the people around you, or the world at large, you are giving yourself the chance to broaden your knowledge base, enrich your life education, and elevate your being from the egoistical superficialities and common misunderstandings we are all chained to. If you can’t admit you don’t know something, you won’t allow a drop of knowledge to seep into your being. When you make that conscious decision to close off the opportunity to know something by proclaiming you already know, you have only cheated yourself.

Saying “I don’t know” isn’t easy. Society interprets someone who confesses they don’t know something as ignorant, weak, and inferior. It is sad we have all readily accepted such a flawed judgment. The truth of it is that we all don’t know, because we are living the ongoing process of knowing. We are actively taking in information, analyzing data, understanding feelings, and storing tons and tons of knowledge every second of our existence. It would be a real pity to block the waves of wisdom waiting to wash over us by easily proclaiming ourselves as geniuses floating above the vast ocean of knowledge, now wouldn’t it?

Do yourself a favor. Say “I don’t know”, and learn something new today.

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18 thoughts on “I Don’t Know.

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  1. Wow! I didn’t think one could come up with a whole article about “I know.”
    This made me realize how much I use that phrase myself, often followed by “, right?”
    It is indeed, a cover-up. This post gave me a lot to think about, Sindhuja 🙂
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wrote this post because I remember saying “I know” a whole lot when I was younger! Over the years, I’ve thought critically about that habit, and what those words actually mean, and came to the realisation that I was fooling myself if I really thought I knew everything. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Well written and insightful article, it reminds me of what the great philosophers have tried to teach us; like Lao Tzu’s (taoism) reverence for beginner’s mind and I think it was Socrates who said the only thing he knew for certain was that he didn’t know ;). I always want to learn and grow, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Judy. And thank you for sharing your thoughts by highlighting Taoism and Socrates philosophy of “I know nothing”. 🙂 I’m the same as you – I want to learn and grow at every turn; there is an opportunity for learning in everything, as long as we are ready to look for it.

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  3. Brilliant post, i loved how you pondered and extracted the way society uses “i know”. Not many people think that small phenomenon like these in life are important. You have a very philosophical mind. Many people fear accepting the fact that they don’t know. The day we start thinking that we know everything is the day we stop learning. Great of you to raise this point, this is as important as any other concern in society. Hope to read more from you. 😊😊😊😊😊🌸🌸

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind comment! 🙂 I appreciate you adding in your two cents. I agree with your observation that such seemingly small phenomenon can have far-reaching effects. And it’s up to us to stop and take a moment to notice its significance. There is so much yet to learn!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “We are quick to know the…the story without even hearing a word of it.”

    It seems to me we so often listen to react than listen to understand, as suggested to me by your statement above.

    I am once again impressed by how comprehensive you are in listing out points I myself would lazily neglect, thinking, “I’ve made my case by now”.

    I agree with you that refusing to think we know is both a mark of true strength and courage — the courage to risk being seen as a loser, a no-nothing, or worse.

    It’s my impression that men are especially good at merely assuming knowledge. I’ve always blamed a combination of testosterone and acculturation for that. I’ve also heard Americans surpass others in being know-it-alls. Given you’ve lived in so many places, maybe you can shed light on that.

    I hope I know myself well enough that I’m not merely bragging, but I think I’ve learned to wear my opinions lightly, hold them tentatively, and be prepared to change or update them.

    I uncommonly enjoy your posts, Sindhuja. Your logic is pulled as tight as an acrobat’s rope, your reasons are sound. It’s an aesthetic delight to witness the way your mind works.

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    1. You’re being far too kind in your comments about my writing. 🙂 But I will graciously accept the compliments – it’s nice to hear that my logic is sound and I’m making sense to my readers!

      In response to your comment about men being especially good at assuming knowledge, I can’t help but agree. It’s not just American men; I’m fairly certain of men of all colors and backgrounds. I think it has to do with the way men are brought up – to think they must know everything, and if they don’t project as if they do, they are deemed to be weak and “unmanly”. (Which I think is far from the truth – a man who can admit to not knowing something, and better yet, wanting to learn something new, is admirable and charming).

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      1. If it’s men everywhere, then my hunch is it’s too universal to be cultural alone. More likely, I think it must have something to do with testosterone. Testosterone does about seven different things, including makes you confident . Which is why teenage boys drive fast, thinking they know how to handle a race car.

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      2. Testosterone does put quite a spin on things, it seems! I believe it’s a mix of that natural masculine propensity to feel infallible, and also a big dose of the “traditional” upbringing of men to be tough, unshakeable, and knowledgeable on everything.

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