People use the phrase “I don’t know” so often that I finally shared an alternative.
We don’t live life based on what we know. I think often we know very little, but that doesn’t stop us from going on. One image I use is the image of the road pattern where you reach a split or a tee in the road. Just because you don’t know which direction to turn doesn’t mean that you stop your life in that intersection. You still drive on based on your guess, your hunch, your theory. Those are good enough for life, why not for conversation?
And so I encourage people, when they are stopped by an “I don’t know” to go ahead an share their theory, their guess, their WAG, their thougths, their recollections, their beliefs.
I actually encourage them to avoid the “I don’t know.” I think that the phrase is based on an erroneous interpretation of the life situation. Life is not a grade school classroom. In grade school the teacher would ask questions. The “correct” answer was written in red in the teacher’s manual. As a student I was aware that I didn’t know what was written in red in the book. So I would say, “I don’t know (the right answer in your book).”
But inspite of what people want to tell you, life doesn’t have a book of rights and wrongs. No read ink Life is to be lived. How many times has “going the wrong way” proved a better result than following the “right path?” Certainly there are wiser and more foolish things to do. But we have to learn them somehow. And we often learn by taking the wrong road. It that learning wrong?
At the same time, many people use the phrase “I don’t know” to signal that they are feeling trapped, threatened and attacked. They seem to be saying, “Back off! Leave me alone.” I think this is about safety. And so I want to deal with their Lizard while inviting them to take courage and share their thoughts.
So here is the one and only sign I put up in my office. It’s the most valuable one I have found..