What I Don’t Know CAN Hurt Me


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!

Carolyn Parr

*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.   

Cf.  http://www.noogenesis.com/game_theory/johari/johari_window.html

When You Are the One and Only Caregiver

Occasionally we meet individuals whose first response to our mentioning Tough Conversations is: “I was the one and only caregiver for my (fill in the blank: mother, father, grandparent, etc.)” “Do you have siblings?” we ask. Sometimes we hear no, other times, yes. If yes,  “Weren’t you able to get their support, or access help from other sources?” is our next query. Again, sometimes yes, other times, no.
The bottom line among many families is that one adult child becomes ‘the one and only’ caregiver; the sole custodian of financial and health care responsibilities, or end-of-life and change-of-residence needs.
Some have nowhere else to turn; others call on social service agencies for assistance. One friend commented that she was so focused on caring for her parents, she never thought of asking others for help. As a result her memories of caring for her mother are filled with resentment, anger, and fatigue.
For those of you who are or were “the one and only” we invite you to share your insights of what it is (or was) like be a sole caregiver. There must be many of you flying alone. What can we learn from your experience? What advice, suggestions, or counsel would you share with others? What kinds of tough conversations do you wish had taken place but never did?
We hope you’ll share your thoughts about what it’s like to be ‘the one and only.’
Sig Cohen


My pastor Gordon Cosby tells the story of when he was young and asked an elderly minister, “What advice can you give me?”

The older man said, “Remember that every person in the pew is holding an invisible bucket of tears.”

Gordon would start his class in spiritual growth with this question: tell us your name and your deepest pain. As shocking as that was, people would do it. Out it would come: my husband abandoned me with four children and I can’t forgive him; my younger sister died of cancer at 24; my mother has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t recognize me. The sharing of pain bonded us in our vulnerability. Nobody was superior, nobody had to pretend. Everyone was accepted just as we were, because we all had suffered. Gordon said, “We love each other for our weakness, not our strength.” We were connected. It was a huge gift.

I’ve thought of that many times as a mediator. In the rare cases when I find myself disliking a party, it helps to take a minute and imagine his/her bucket of tears. It softens me and allows me to retain positive regard for that person, even when he or she is difficult. And sure enough, if we’re able to keep the conversation going, the pain will be revealed and the dynamic will change.

Master mediator Kenneth Cloke puts this another way. He says, “When someone is behaving badly, I ask myself, what would make me act like that?” He looks into his own bucket, and finds the answer.

Almost any conflict can be resolved once parties are able to see each other’s humanity. Out goes demonizing, in comes compassion. In fact, that’s a good definition of compassion: the ability to see another’s invisible bucket of tears.

Carolyn Parr

“What is it about money…”

that so often brings out the absolute worst in people, especially when that money travels from one generation to the next.?

My friend Sam told me about his grandmother’s case: Instead of apportioning her legacy equally among her three children, she gave more to her son Phil than to her other children, Jane and Alice. Alice didn’t blink an eye. But Jane, who ‘married rich’ as the saying goes and didn’t need any help, was furious. Phil, on the other hand, was struggling. After trying to keep the family dry cleaning business afloat, he went from job to job barely scratching a living.

Once the will was read and Jane learned of the unequal distribution, things were never the same between Phil and Jane. Mind you, Phil had nothing to do with it. It was their mother’s decision, pure and simple. But Jane couldn’t get it out of her head that Phil had to be ‘the favored child’ because he got a larger inheritance. Go figure.

Carolyn and I hear story after story similar to this. For example, the adult child who has assumed the lion’s share of caring for his or her parents, can’t shake a dime loose from the other siblings. Why? A hundred reasons: Will the money pay for their parents’ care or end up in the pockets of the care-giving sibling? Or, the care-giving sibling has plenty of money. Why come to me for a ‘hand-out?’ And so on.

The money issue isn’t easy to resolve. It can impact relationships for years. Have you had a similar experience? If so, let us know how it was resolved. Or. was it ever resolved? Add a comment or drop us a line.