Why You Should Know What You Don't
Every once in a while I find myself in the midst of people who have very firm views of the world. No matter the topic they are comfortable waxing eloquently about what’s right, what’s wrong, and how things should and should not be. Not pausing to take a breath, they push out full narratives on their one-sided and often misinformed POVs.
I’ve been questioning this type of behavior and found solace in the fact that many of our greatest predecessors also took issue with those who couldn’t tame their tongue.
- I know one thing: that I know nothing. — Socrates
- Better to be silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt. —Lincoln
- Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. — Bible
- Silence is one of the great arts of conversation. — Cicero
- Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something. — Plato
- Teach thy tongue to say I do not know, and thou shalt progress. — Rabbi Moses ben Maimon
At some point we’ve all have been (or will be) in situations where it’s really difficult to stay silent even when we don’t have anything truly useful to add. But why is silence or simply saying ‘I don’t know’ so hard to do in certain circumstances?
I put myself under the microscope and identified some of the emotional triggers that evoke this disingenuous behavior:
Fear of missing out — not wanting to be left out or the only one who isn’t in the know.
Fear of judgment— afraid of what other people might think if you don’t act a certain way or say a certain thing.
Confidence tied to external approval — so caught up in external praise and recognition that your sense of self becomes dependent on it.
Competitiveness without cause — an unhealthy obsession with being the best even in situations where there is no need to compete.
Difficulty accepting what you don’t know — inability to be at peace with your intellectual shortcomings.
Different variations of fear trigger our egos leading to overcompensation and a false sense of superiority that distort our ability to be self-aware.
It’s a lose-lose for all involved when conversations are built around superficial knowledge that is really just a cover-up for ignorance and insecurity. Correspondence is more fruitful when we resist the urge to just hear ourselves talk by alleviating these sources of fear and threat.
Communication should be thoughtful, helpful, and credible so it is important to filter out the fluff and fillers so we can craft our words from a clear and authentic place.
Alternatively, know that it’s ok to stay still and silent if you can’t see how your words will contribute to positive progression.