What I know is helpful and good but what makes it better, is knowing what I don’t know! And that’s where the journey of all my big and small discoveries begins…Jyoti Singh
Probability of you meeting someone who knows the direction you should be heading in is ‘more’, than people who are ready to admit that they don’t know when you are in search of a specific place. Your Google map is confusing you, you are late, lost, and you relied upon the guidance just provided. You then ended up walking/ driving on the suggested path only to discover that it would have saved you time had they admitted that they don’t know, and you would have gone and explored other options, which you will do now! And if you haven’t been privileged enough yet to bump into someone who genuinely wanted to help you but instead ended up wasting your time and effort then you sure have met people who have strong beliefs into something and are ready to argue with you for hours on what they have followed forever and would never agree that they actually don’t know the logic behind it. For eg. Religion! Ooh! Dare I say something about this most sensitive topic today. Not many are aware of the real reason behind difference of opinions, but everybody is ready to jump in that firepit holding the flag high to prove what they are following is the most superior. How? Don’t know. Why? Don’t know.
Last year, in so many years there suddenly was a huge argument about ‘Women’ not allowed to enter one of the Temples in India. Everybody had an opinion on it! For me those opinions didn’t matter but what bothered me was how many of those highly opiniated people never got to the bottom of the real reason behind such a strong belief before even assessing if their opinions mattered? If there existed such norm since the era we don’t even know, there must have been a strong reason behind it, but any verdict is baseless unless we have got to the bottom of the issue. Knowledge gained via baseless opinions only leads to confusions not discoveries.
More than ever we seem to live in a world where everybody is always certain, and nobody is ever willing to accept that they could be wrong. It seems that it’s important to have an old opinion than to truly understand the contents of that opinion. Somehow, we have decided that it’s okay to hold beliefs based on blind affiliation as opposed to rigorous critical thoughts. And if you don’t take a side right away, well, then you are to be disdained or to be tagged as ignorant. Very conveniently we have adapted to the ‘inability’ to humbly accept that we don’t and can’t know everything all the time. What we are is based on our own unique experiences, and none of these experiences align perfectly with any one person or ideological system. It’s wise to not have an opinion than to naively purse someone else’s.
Another unruly that I see emerging today is we see our identity as the political parties that we support, or when we let the weight of our loyalty to a public figure, News channel or a political leader to dictate how we make sense of the world rather than critically reasoning ourselves. When you think about it, acknowledging ignorance is actually productive. Sometimes, the best answer is simply “I don’t know.” Now, that isn’t to give you a reason to exercise indifference or to avoid making difficult decisions. It’s just about choosing to stick to your circle of competence and awareness.
At any given point, there’s only so much information we can make sense of in a day. There will be things we don’t understand. If they aren’t relevant, it’s okay not to know. If they are, it’s better to take time to think, explore and research — but that only comes when we have been able to make peace with the fact that ‘I don’t know’. This may seem fairly intuitive, and yet, the vast majority of people rarely find themselves comfortable enough to be at ease with not knowing. Instead, they proclaim from memory whatever has been deep-rooted into their mind.
Believe it or not, not as robots, but as humans it’s completely normal to not know everything. It’s fine to take time to form an opinion, and it’s useful to acknowledge ignorance. We live in a world saturated with ideas, and not all of them are good, and not all of them are right for everyone. Ask questions, be critical, and don’t be afraid to change your mind. There are no solid rules against doing so. With new technologies emerging every day at fingertips and lives surrounded around AI, we are flooded with information but before we convert any of these information into our very own knowledge let’s be conscious on what we are absorbing, take time to know what you don’t know rather than joining everyone in the race of what they know. No one ever advanced by standing in the same place. We didn’t get to where we are by always being right. All of it is trial and error, and if you truly want to understand the world, you have to be comfortable with that. It is a must to open our minds in this age of overflowing data out of which majority of it is formed based on a specific belief, influence or control.
Uncertainty isn’t a condition that must be avoided, instead is a tool that could help us make better decisions…
We all know knowledge is wealth but it’s important to reflect on how we earned it!
I remember when I was in school one of my teacher, who also gave me tuition in my early years of learning was trying to help me remember one of the Times table and she initially with patience asked me twice and waited for the right answer to come out, which when I struggled to produce even in the fifth attempt, purely because my concepts were not clear. She started forming all sorts of shapes and sizes in the air with the help of her fingers and mouth to prompt me with the answer. The guessing game went well and I finally gave her the numbers she was looking for! I still remember her expression of her sense of achievement in that moment, with the broadest smile possible handed me a candy to show appreciation. And I could remember thinking, I didn’t know that’s what you wanted! I got it and I am glad I am done. That was my first memory of the importance of knowing things. That if I knew things or in this particular case if I pretended to know things and if I got away with it then I would get whatever I wanted, from things to things, from school to jobs and that in our culture, I very quickly learnt that knowing things or pretending to know things was the way to success, to achievements, and that worked for me. And similarly, in many of my interviews in initial days of job search when I didn’t know things I kind of pretended to know things and I kept moving on.
With time I also worked out we can pretty much answer all the questions by saying – ‘what do you think’?! And that trick really works well every time, hand on heart you all know it. You just ask the question and then people not ready to admit ‘I don’t know’ start to think and we think together. But now, there’s something in me that denies from saying yes on things that I actually don’t know. I would now prefer to admit I don’t know and start from there than to pretend and cover up. Even if people raise their eyebrows to the highest point possible thinking whatever they want for me not knowing even the most obvious thing, and ask in a sarcastic or surprised tone how could you not know this!! And I feel absolutely comfortable in accepting – Yup! ‘I don’t know’ and if it interests or concerns me, I will find out.
How many of you have landed in the don’t know what to do situation?
I don’t know is an incredibly painful place to be for someone who is used to being in control and knowing what it is that you are going to do or at least pretending to do. There has been several moments in my life when I have gone completely blank and didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what would work. There’s incredible social risk to not knowing, there is also incredible vulnerability to not knowing and I have many a times found myself standing in that blank space of not knowing. Not knowing what next, not knowing what will make things better, but in that darkness, the moment I focused on what I didn’t know, each time I have learnt a very important lesson and made some wonderful discoveries. I have returned to that dark space time and again – because, I don’t know is the reality of life. On ultimate level we don’t know what really our life is all about. Where we came from and where we will be going! What we know is we start by being born and then we don’t know how it’s all going to progress. It’s all about not knowing to experiencing it all.
Few years ago, well 10 yrs ago to be precise, we organised our daughters 1st Birthday party on a slightly grand level, being an Indian who looks for any excuse to celebrate and this one was well deserved moment as we were very proud parent for the first time ever, a few of friends actually joked about it being Tiya’s wedding party … hahaha…
Everything in that party was well thought and organised by the event manager we had hired, all were planned to be entertained well, looked after well, fed well… oooh!! except for the Birthday girl herself! Whose food which I had handed to the event manager to keep it safe for later, but accidentally that food then got served on a table with special dietary requirements, assuming it was a condiment to go along with the starters on that table rather than my daughter’s pureed food. Finally, when the birthday girl had enough of cuddling and cajoling and when the hungry monster took over all the nicest feelings, someone was badly in need of her food. Answering to that loud enough call I rushed towards the event manager suggesting it was time for that most special meal which made its way from home to be served. The event manager promptly went in their special area where all the food prep was taking place and came back empty handed with an expression that only suggested we are in big trouble! Oh my and then the panic struck and she just lost it on her team who were running like headless chickens in and out of the kitchen/serving area. Me, the inquiring Mum, standing there slowly getting close to losing my patience with the baby in hand who had hungry monster roaring in her tummy by now. I saw that expression changing from being in control, commanding to the complete helplessness on the lady’s face and understood the blunder that had just taken place. Genuinely apologising she admitted that “I really don’t know what to do now” and explained everything that has just gone wrong behind the scenes!
With music playing loud, me holding a crying baby and all decked up in not so relaxed dressing — it’s easy to assume what the reactions would have been then! But, trust me completely opposite happened! And my approach to deal with the situation completely changed, no longer were we arguing or panicking. Even amidst all that music, chitter-chatter from about 100 guests, kids running around, jumping up and down on bouncy castle in the background, we felt a weird calmness and now we were looking to work together. Why?
Because the lady had admitted to not knowing what exactly she or her team should do now and my conscience said, well if she doesn’t know I need to help! I need to help figure this out because I am not pushing against someone’s inability to answer. She’s telling me she doesn’t know what the answer is and if she doesn’t know what the answer is! What’s my role in this! My role is to help contribute to figure out the best option to restore the moment.
With all of such experiences so far, I have learnt that the real magic happens not in having the answers every time but by creating space for other people to come up with answers.
All the innovation that we have right in front of our eyes, at our fingertip or at our doorstep, believe it or not has come from that uncomfortable, vulnerable place of not knowing, of not knowing what to do next, and of not knowing what the answers are to each question that popped in their heads before they defined the solution. When we don’t know we admit to the truth and the reality of life and starting from that point the solutions are going to be unique and custom made just perfect to solve your issues and that’s what I guess most inventions are.
We don’t know what the market’s going to do tomorrow, we don’t know what the interest rates going to be, we don’t know what exactly is the right thing to say every time. We don’t know the next move to make when we are in the situation that requires a quick action, we don’t know how to think thoughtfully through something and make sure that the decision we have made is the right one! We don’t know a lot of things and it is from that place, from that insecure scary place that requires the outmost of confidence and strength to sit in from where the creativity and innovations are born.
I really wish we all have the strength to accept what we don’t know and from that place we innovate and create, because as we realise a journey of innovation starts not from knowing but from not knowing.