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Say: I Don't Know

Say it at least once a day

Low shot of sunflowers against a brilliant blue sky.
Sunflowers tracking the sun at Evergreen. How do they do it? I don't know.

I learned a very important lesson recently while watching Symphonic Horizons at The Sydney Opera House on TV, hosted by one of the world’s pre-eminent physicists, Professor Brian Cox.


The event included performances by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra of music by Sibelius, Westlake, Mahler, and Strauss, and amazing photos of outer space. Cox conversed about the awesome, unfathomable cosmos and discussed our own short, fragile lives within it.


Because he is a world-renowned physicist, I was surprised how many times he admitted scientists didn’t know the answer to questions about the cosmos or the origin of life. And several times he simply and humbly stated, ‘I don’t know.’


I Don’t Know


‘I don’t know.’


Why is this such a hard thing for me to say?


There are 400 billion stars in our galaxy. How could I possibly know the right answer to every question thrown at me when I can’t even fathom that number of stars, let alone explain where they came from and where they’re going?


In his book, Spiritual Science: Why Science Needs Spirituality to Make Sense of the World, Steve Taylor wrote:


Feeling that we understand how the world works gives us a sense of authority and domination.


Thinking we know the answers to all the questions thrown at us throughout the day gives us a sense of power and control. It makes us feel confident and safe.


Not knowing something can engender feelings of inadequacy, ignorance, or vulnerability.


If I’m having a conversation with a friend and they ask me what they should do in a certain situation, I may have a suggestion. An answer may leap to my mind, highly processed, and ready to be consumed. 


However, my answer to their question would be based on my narrow experience and limited knowledge. It would be overshadowed by my emotional response to their situation and further complicated by my social conditioning.


Probably the best answer I could give is, ‘I don’t know.’

Saying ‘I don’t know,’ doesn’t shut a door. It opens it.


Saying, ‘I don’t know,’ allows two important ingredients to enter the conversation:

  • Silence

  • Space.


Stepping in quickly with overprocessed and opinionated answers is like blocking a natural spring with a dirty cloth.

Silence and space are powerful ingredients to have in our lives. They are packed with potential, and bursting with possibilities - including unexpected and fresh answers to questions.


Silence and Space


We need more silence and space in our lives.


We can automatically increase their presence in our lives by pausing before we answer questions, and then not being afraid to answer by saying ‘I don’t know.'.


Be comfortable with not knowing.


Not knowing lets in the possibility of knowing something new.


In an interview on High Performance, in answer to a question about advice for life, Cox quoted the physicist Richard Feynman who said doubt is not to be feared but welcomed.


Let’s doubt our automatic answers.


Let’s admit we don’t know.


Let’s say, ‘I don’t know,’ at least once a day.


With love, Marlane


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