WHAT I DON’T KNOW (I DON’T KNOW) — CAN HURT ME (AND OTHERS)
We’ve all heard the saying, “What I don’t know can’t hurt me.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Imagine a 4-pane window.* Pane 1 is “What I know I know.” (How to speak English, how to iron a shirt). Pane 2 is “What I know I don’t know.” (Calculus, brain surgery, Urdu). Those two pieces of knowledge are in my conscious mind. If I let them guide me, I can keep a proper sense of humility and can make rational responses to situations.
Below the line are two more panes, out of my conscious awareness. Pane 3 is “What I don’t know I know.” This is the land of happy surprises. I pick up a brush and discover I love to paint. I figure out how to make a soufflé without a recipe. A forgotten memory or experience surfaces. Or I just use my common sense or intuition to solve a problem.
But in resolving disputes, most of the trouble resides in Pane 4, “What I Don’t Know I Don’t Know.” This is dangerous territory. This may be (a) where we think we know something but it’s based on flawed information: such as “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.” Or (b) we accept current cultural assumptions or prejudices: “Old people can’t manage their own lives.” (Read on!) Or, maybe the most common example that bites us all: (c) “I know what someone else is thinking.”
Before I begin a tough conversation, it’s absolutely imperative to stop and examine my assumptions about what the other wants, how s/he will react to what I say, and what’s the best solution. I have to swallow a large dose of humility and acknowledge, “I don’t know.” Acknowledging what I don’t know shifts my thinking from pane 4 to pane 2 and opens a whole new realm of possibilities.
To test your own assumptions about what a truly old person can do, take a look at this 103-year-old: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/politics/at-103-federal-judge-is-still-hearing-cases/2011/04/20/AFZHG4GE_story.html.
As a retired judge, I leave you with a smile!
*This differs from the “Johari window” which focuses on interactions with others. We’re suggesting a tool one can do alone, a personal contemplative mind clearing, that opens new possibilities in a relationship or situation.