It is often said that knowledge is power, a phrase often attributed to Francis Bacon in his book Mediatationes Sacrae (please support small businesses and shop at your local bookstore). If so, it is understandable why we have such a difficult time admitting that we do not know something. This is particularly true for men who are taught, from an early age, that they must know. Most, if not all of us, will remember a time in middle or high school when we dreaded being called upon by the teacher because we knew we didn’t know the answer. We also knew that we would be laughed at if we admitted it … after all we had seen other classmates being laughed at … and probably gone along with it (karma?). We carried this trauma with us into the corporate environment (i.e., the modern day version of a group hunt), where such words can spell a lack of promotion, at best, or dismissal, at worst. And we carried it with us in the non-corporate environment and particularly in relationships where men are genetically programmed to resist not knowing.
Through our genetic evolution, men have … well, evolved to sire their progeny and to be problem solvers. To ensure they procreate, each male must be selected by one, or multiple, females. In that respect, we are no different than many of the animal species. Any doubters can sit at any local watering hole on a Friday and/or Saturday night and watch men preen and prance about in an effort to attract the attention of a woman… sometimes any woman! To be a problem solver means that you must know the answer to … well, everything! To admit ignorance is to be a failure as a problem solver and who wants to be a failure, or admit it?
For men, in particular, saying “I don’t know” is scary because we believe it communicates weakness. However, in reality, it is a source of power and there are multiple reasons to make it part of our everyday lexicon. Fore example, by saying “I don’t know”, and remaining receptive, we open ourselves to learning. Of course, “I don’t know” must be followed by the desire to find out! After all, someone probably asked Sir Isaac Newton, or perhaps he asked himself, why the apple fell on his head. The same is probably true of Carl Sagan, Leonarda da Vinci, Albert Einstein and countless others that have had such an impact on our knowledge of the world. But “I’ll find out” cannot exist without “I don’t know.”
Saying “I don’t know” is a sign of strength not weakness. After all, you must be confident in yourself, not afraid of what others might think (by the way, their opinion of you is none of your business, but that’s a different subject), etc., to admit not knowing. It takes a strong person to show perceived weakness … think about it. Saying “I don’t know” shows that we are masters of our insecurities and not afraid of seeking knowledge, and of expanding our comfort zone. It also shows humility which builds trust and, hence, relationships. Who among us has not doubted the person who allegedly had an answer for every questions? Haven’t we referred to this person as a know-it-all, which is far from a compliment?
Next time you don’t know something, admit it. Feel the freedom that comes with that answer. The liberation you’ll feel at not being enslaved by a misplaced belief. And if they snicker or laugh, rest confident that they are reflecting their own insecurities.
Let me end with a quote from the great Mark Twain: I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said ‘I don’t know.’
As always, your thoughts, ideas, comments and feedbacks are appreciated, Jean-Pierre
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