Take a look at the piece of furniture in front of you. If you don’t have furniture available, look at a person nearby. How tall are they?
Please note that there is only one answer that is absolutely correct. This answer is:
“I don’t know.”
Notice the feeling of recognition and freedom when you allow yourself to admit that you don’t know. There is no feeling of doubt, nor any pressure to defend a certain answer, and no desire to convince others of your truth. You are honest and therefore free.
I don’t know is where learning starts. It is also where real listening starts. You will never be a good listener if you think you already know the person you are talking to or the topic you are discussing. Which reminds me of a story:
A very knowledgeable scientist goes to the forest nearby to meet with the wise man who lives there. As soon as he arrives, he tells the wise man, quite arrogantly, “I am a well-known scientist, but I have heard of you, and I have come to see what you can teach me.” The wise man smiles and says, “Of course. But first, let’s just have some tea.” He gives the scientist a cup and starts pouring tea. The cup gets full, but he continues to pour. Exasperated, the scientist cries, “Stop, stop! Can’t you see there’s no more room in the cup for tea? You’re spilling all over the floor!” “It is the same as you,” the wise man replies. “You come here saying that you want to learn from me, but your cup is already full.”
This small act of humility—admitting our own ignorance—puts us in a state of creative openness. We can call it curiosity, and we can describe it like this: “I don’t know, but I want to find out.” Finding out is dynamic, while knowing is static and requires a certain kind of mental blindness. The fact is that nothing is static in this world.
You are familiar with this state of curiosity. You recognize it in children, who seem to look at the world through magic glasses. You feel it when you are in a state of flow, completely engrossed in the present. You may have forgotten it or believe that it only comes in certain situations, but it’s actually always there, inside you, waiting for your acknowledgement. But in order to regain it and apply it, you need to practice not knowing.
Today, when you are having a conversation with anyone about anything, see if you can avoid having an opinion about it. See if you can allow yourself to not know—about a person, topic, or event. Experiment listening without interpretation, without agreeing or disagreeing. Try this experiment several times throughout your day.
“I know only that I don’t know anything.”
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