“I don’t know.” Three of the hardest words to say – except maybe for:
Many of us – probably most of us – seem to approach admitting ignorance with the same enthusiasm we approach a root canal. It is as though we are afraid to confess that we don’t know something, as though it were a moral deficiency or a crime.
This attitude is puzzling, since in this vast Universe, we know at most a handful of facts, while what we don’t know is infinite. Part of the problem is that not knowing makes us feel vulnerable. We seem to prefer an incorrect certainty to doubt. The more an issue challenges our certainties, the greater our hostility towards it. So we cling to our beliefs and refuse to let facts confuse us.
Perhaps doing this offers us some comfort. The comfort comes at a high price. The cost of not admitting ignorance is missing the opportunity to learn. I think that the greatest obstacle to learning is the mistaken belief that you already know the subject – and that in most cases, this belief is mistaken. It seems to me that we would be better off taking the words of Socrates to heart – that we know nothing. It’s not far from the truth. If we assume this, we open ourselves to the possibility of learning new things. If we cling to the notion that we already know, we are likely to miss many opportunities to learn.