via The Wisdom of Saying “I Don’t Know” | On Being
The Wisdom of Saying “I Don’t Know”
I was recently reading a book about a medieval saint. Every day, people came to ask the saint questions about life, the world, faith, the heart, the path, politics, and more.
One person came and asked a question about the law. The saint simply answered, “I don’t know.” Another had a philosophical question. The saint, again answered, “I don’t know.” All in all, 29 people came and asked questions. To each and every one the saint answered, “I don’t know.” It was when the 30th person asked a question that the saint said: “Oh, I have something to answer about this one.”
One out of 30. The rest of the time, the saint realised that silence was an improvement over words.
Many many years ago, when I first stumbled into the world of knowledge management, lessons learned, best practice knowledge transfer, rah, rah, rah, I subscribed to a lot of feed and pages and sites. The sole survivor of all of these is David Gurteen Knowledge Letter. Monthly, it drops into my inbox and I have a quick scan…some months, I can just flick it off, others there will be a little nugget that strikes a chord…such was the case this morning…
That lead me to Omar Safi’s blog post on saying “I don’t know“, the opening paragraphs of which are quoted above…sometimes strength is not in knowledge but in ignorance; strength is being able to say “I don’t know“, strength is not feeling that internal pressures or external influences are compelling you to provide a response when the honest answer is “I don’t know“.
In searching for an appropriate image to open this post, I found the “I don’t Know” post on the Friday Food for Thought blog which also gelled with my thoughts and the ‘Inkling theme of today’s WordPress Daily Prompt…basically, if you haven’t an inkling that just shut up…
No one expects everyone to know everything. In most case, people respect more someone who can say “I don’t know” instead of presenting ignorance as knowledge. this is particularly true here in the way we manage our visitors, domestic and international.
Tongariro National Park is probably one of the most accessible national parks in the world. It is only a four to five hour drive from the international terminals in Auckland and Wellington: you can land in New Zealand and be in the Park in less than five hours. And on the rescue helicopter thirty minutes later. OK, that’s an extreme example but it’s happened. Because it is so easy to get to the Park, sandwiched between four state highways (1, 4, 47, 49), visitors often do not naturally feel that it offers a great deal of risk, compared to expeditions in the south of the South Island where you definitely feel that you are leaving the safety and security of civilisation behind you.
Visitors ask for information. They seek it from websites and via email before they leave home; they seek it over the counter and by phone once they are here. They ask in Visitor Centres and i-Sites – credible sources of information – but also in accommodation, in bares and in restaurants, where they person they are asking may not have been here much longer them, or have much more knowledge than them – but can still respond with a misplaced aura of confidence. They may not know at all, they may think they know, they may be simply regurgitating something they heard, they may just want you to go way. If they don’t know, they should say “I don’t know“.
And if you’re in the information game, be prepared to offer the same advice “I don’t know”. You may be able to to steer them towards a source that may be able to assist, you may just have to leave them to consider their own options, lacking the information they seek. Then their actions are their responsibility. Once you offer information, you (and your organisation if you’re at work) become part of that responsibility chain…like it or not…
There’s little helping someone who doesn’t ask for advice but those who do should be assured of either getting a credible accurate and relevant response to their inquiry, or be told “I don’t know“. Consider perhaps the example of Suzannah Gilford, who was rescued of Mount Ruapehu just before Christmas last year. Her account of her experience is well-written and a good read. Inspired to ascend Mount Ruapehu, still carrying an icy cap, she did seek information to support her decision-making…
Arriving in Whakapapa Village, I received mixed advice on climbing Mt Ruapehu… “You need an ice axe and crampons…”, “Sorry no guided tours yet, but there will be in 2 years time…”, “The mountain is sacred so we’re asking people not to go to the crater…”, but encouragingly the lady at the foot of the mountain explained, “You can go wherever you like… there are no signs yet, but everyone just makes their own paths in the snow.” She couldn’t advise how bad the snow was, nor how long it would take to reach the crater, and had no maps to sell, but suggested people were up there trekking and I couldn’t wait to see for myself!
One systemic informational failure after another. Pretty much every one of those statements was incorrect at the time (the ice cap is now substantially reduced). Locals are quick to apportion 100% of responsibility for rescues on those needing to be rescued but here is a smart young lady who knew what she didn’t know, who asked the questions and received in return a bewildering mishmash of inaccurate information. Who cares whether it was the DOC Visitor Centre or the Ruapehu District Council i-SITE, that she visited? Whoever she spoke to, if they could not respond credibly and authoritatively, just had to say “I don’t know”
One would like to think that both parent organisations have a regularly reviewed FAQ for such every day questions in and around Tongariro National Park; a document that protects the individual, the visitor and the organisation. In the absence of such, a simple “I don’t know” may have been the safer option for Suzannah and the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO) rescue team that assisted her off the mountain…
It’s not quite as simple as the some would have us believe “…try as I may I could never explain, what I hear when you don’t say a thing…”
Sometimes you just have to say “I don’t know“…
Great article. It says so much.Dad