These are three of my favorite words.
‘I don’t know.’
As an employed person and a mother of six, you might assume that I don’t use this phrase often. If you were to poll a group of 100 people, I believe that most of them would say that this phrase shows weakness. It shows that you don’t have the answers to your co-worker’s questions, that you are waiting to be walked on by your children, that you aren’t sharp enough for the task at hand.
I disagree on all accounts.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I listen to Daf Yomi with Rabbanit Michelle Farber at Hadran. Rabbanit Farber has a brilliant mind. She has created this daily learning for women that has attracted thousands of people from around the world; we are all listening to the lesson each day as she guides us through these complicated pages.
And I love, I just love, when she says: “I don’t know.”
She covers a great deal of material each day, and she often has questions and comments flying in on chat from her zoom participants. And when she is stumped or unsure about something, she says, “That’s a great question. I don’t know.”
Do we think less of her for it? Personally, it makes me think more of her.
Her “I don’t know” is almost always followed up the next day by a researched answer, by an explanation or clarification. But at the moment when the question is asked, she has the confidence and self-awareness to know that she couldn’t possibly know everything.
‘I don’t know’ has power to it.
It’s not ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I don’t really care to find out’. It’s ‘I don’t know’, and ‘if you give me some time, I’ll look into it and get back to you’.
It’s ‘I’m human, just like you are, and I don’t have all of the answers all of the time. If you know more than I do on this subject, you can help me out. I’ll look into it when I have the chance.’
As a former teacher and current manager/parent, I just love this.
I know many people have been turned off to education (and to religion for that matter) because authority figures in their lives shut down their questions. Questions can be scary and so can a lack of answers. But really, the more of an honest, educated, and expansive response we have to a difficult question, the more we allow for exploration and the search for truth. And this is how we learn and grow.
We don’t know everything. But we know enough to explore the answer together, to search for truth, and to go deeper.
COVID-19 has created a lot of ‘I don’t knows’ that make people very uncomfortable. It’s much easier to think you have the answers (even when you don’t) and to see things in black and white. As a parent, this becomes even more complicated when you have to make decisions for other people in your life.
Hell, parenting in general is ripe with the balance between looking like the authority figure, and admitting that you don’t have all the answers.
The more honest and open we can be to these uncertainties; the more confident we can be with what we know and what we don’t, yet, know; the more we open our children and ourselves to the mystery of the world.
Go ahead and embrace your own power. Enjoy those ‘I don’t know’ moments, and listen for the space, and the chance for growth, that the statement offers.