It's OK to Say You Don't Know

Is it really though? It wouldn’t be OK to say I don’t know my kid’s birthday. It would be OK to be honest about the not-knowing if I really didn’t know. But, come on, I should know my kid’s birthday.

There are some things we should definitely know. And I would argue, there are some things you probably shouldn’t know – like the number of blades of grass in your yard. Collecting this data would be a huge waste of time.

Alright, those are the extremes. But what about everything in between? We are bombarded with tons of claims every day, some of which are easier than others to gather evidence for and some seem clearly more important than others.

The current temperature. When the Jurassic period was. The right percentage to tax folks who earn over $200,000. The motivation of someone at a protest wearing a MAGA hat.

Perhaps the latter two sent a little jolt of adrenaline into your system. Why is that? Well, for one, these seem to impact us and others more than the other topics. And accordingly, it is these more important topics that we sometimes feel like we should have an answer to. There can even be social benefits for having others think that you know the answer to them. You’ll seem knowledgeable, current, cultured, wise, responsible.

But are you those things? How many of us are well-versed enough in economics to give an articulate and accurate assessment of different economic policies and their implications for future years or even decades? There are so many cultural and personal variables that would influence someone’s decision to wear a MAGA hat – do you know about these for each person that wears them?

Let’s take a chill pill on some of this stuff. Wait a minute. Take a deep breath. Let the waves of being triggered wash over you and float away. Once you are back to your normal, reasonable self, take a few moments to consider whether you really do have evidence you need to back up your beliefs on the matter.

Also, decide whether the topic is something you should spend your precious time thinking about. Is it closer to the kid’s name or blades of grass category?

If you deem it is something important and that you should have a well-considered opinion on it, then start the project of due diligence. Research. But don’t just look for sources that support your view. Search for ones that give reasons for the opposite view and assess them. Avoid the confirmation bias.

But, if it is not that important or you find that the issue is far more complicated than you thought, it’s OK to say you don’t know. And leave it at that. It is not embarrassing. It does not mean you are stupid, or apathetic, or irresponsible, or privileged, or lazy. It might even mean that you are wise.

Or maybe I’m wrong about all this. I don’t know.