Opinion: It’s Okay to Say, “I Don’t Know”
This is a concept I have been working on improving personally. People like to have opinions on everything as I’ve talked about in another post, but I believe it is healthy to admit when you just don’t have the experience, evidence, or authority to talk about something. I’m not going to make claims about how common it was for people in the past to admit when they didn’t know something because I don’t want to be a nostalgia hipster (I refer to nostalgia hipsters as people who reminisce about a day or age they never actually experienced). I do believe that in an age of increased access to various news sources and accounts experiences, it is important to practice this concept. Saying you don’t know means different things in different contexts and it’s important to take that into account.
The main reason why I believe this promotes healthy thinking is because it allows the real debate on a topic to mainly consist of people that actually know what they’re talking about. I, for instance, am not particularly well versed on the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outside of the news headlines. While I can google it, I have no professional, cultural, or familial ties to either side. I, therefore, don’t try and make absolute statements about what ought to be done or who is responsible for what outside of what is proven. Climate change is a similar case where I am not well-versed in the science but lean towards trusting the scientists over people that are naturally inclined to the status quo for financial reasons.
Saying you don’t know also allows for further education. In highly politicised or highly technical topics, when you are partisan without any real reason or evidence, you may already bring out a negative reaction from someone else. If you can say, “this is what I believe but I don’t know,” you’re leaving the door open to possibly learn something.
When talking about more social, subjective, or experiential issues, admitting you don’t makes you come across as less ignorant or less of a bigot. A lot of people haven’t had to historically think of racial minority, gay, or transgender issues because it has never been a part of their family or openly discussed in their community. That is something that can’t be changed in the past. Logically, the worst thing to do is claim that people in these categories are a certain way or act a certain way when you have no actual experience of them or their lifestyle at even the anecdotal level.
If we are to be comfortable with admitting what we know and don’t know, there has to be some lenience on how we interact with people that admit they don’t know. Everyone has their own background and the internet is a big place. So the smart alec answer of “just google it” is making the assumption that people casually spend a significant portion of their day reading on things they don’t know from a large variety of blogs and news networks which is very unrealistic for the average person with priorities. By now, most should be aware that certain derogatory slurs are not encouraged. But one shouldn’t get mad that a cisgender straight person doesn’t understand the complexities of gender fluidity or experience of transgenders in a given community. It is not a given that they’ve read any blog or research on this topic and as long as they are saying they don’t know or it’s none of their business, they shouldn’t have to spend hours googling this to avoid ridicule. In many cases like this, the community in question isn’t always even in agreement about the topic or policies regarding the topic.
The Take Home
As humans, this is undoubtedly the era where we have the most exposure to ideas and information in our history thanks to recent technology. While this is exciting, it means that information moves faster and in larger amounts than before. Days, however, are still 24 hours. No-one can be an expert or even fairly knowledgeable on everything. There will be times when you don’t know the sides or evidence on an important issue. The point is that it should be okay to be able to admit this.
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Enjoy your week,