The freedom of “I don’t know”

We are a culture of certainty. We don’t know much about what we believe or why, but we are certain that we do believe things and we will assert those beliefs with certainty, with conviction, even with aggression. We applaud those who have firm, set opinions and tend to look down on those who don’t as weak or lazy. Even worse, we denigrate those who change their minds as wishy-washy. We idolize certainty and demonize the gray.

Which is unfortunate, because how much learning and truth do we miss when we refuse to say, honestly, “I don’t know”? When we admit that there are things we think might be true, or that we want to be true, but that we really don’t have solid, satisfying reasons for asserting them definitively?

We learn so much in the gray uncertainty of admitting that we don’t know, of admitting that we don’t yet have an opinion. Of waiting to actually form an opinion. That is where true learning happens, where pure curiosity (rather than confirmation bias) has a chance to unfurl and explore and discover. We don’t look for answers when we are certain. We don’t need to — we have all that we feel we need.

I would like more people (myself included) to be more open to saying “I don’t know yet — I am still learning” and for us all to develop a greater appreciation for those who do. Prioritize truth and the learning of it over is so much more important than simply holding and spouting hard-and-fast opinions. I’m not sure where my areas of intellectual stagnation are, but I have a feeling at least some of them are in those areas where I feel most certain I already have the answers. That’s fairly unsettling.

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