I Don’t Know


It is a cliche that knowledge is power.  But sometimes, not knowing something is also power.  There is power in saying “I Don’t Know.”  Let me explain what I mean.

Many people in life will try to impose their frames on us.  They will try to inflict their worries, concerns, goals, attitudes, prejudices, and many other things, on us.  It’s a form of psychological demand.  “Tell me where you stand on this matter!” they insist.  They act like they have a right to know.  They act like they have a right to crawl around in our brains and start turning the levers there.

Family members do it.  Co-workers do it.  Customers and clients do it.  And girlfriends and boyfriends do it.  How many times have you had felt like squirming when answering this question:  “Where is our relationship going?  What are your thoughts about XXX?  What are you thinking?”  You know the kinds of questions I’m talking about.

The problem with these sorts of questions is that they impose unreasonable demands.  It’s a subtle way of devaluing our individual identity.  One cannot “know” everything that is going to happen.  One has a right to his private thoughts.  As long as you are fulfilling your immediate duties, the other person should respect your boundaries.  When a lover asks where things are “going,” of course, she is really trying to find out your future intentions.  And this is understandable from her perspective.

These sorts of leading questions–with ulterior agendas–can come from any source.  As we all know.

There was a point in my life–a long time ago–when I used to worry about questions like this.  I used to try to tap-dance around the issues and spend a lot of effort answering them.  But I don’t do that now.  When someone tries to corner me with a question that imposes unreasonable demands, I am now likely to say this:

I don’t really know.  It is a powerful sentence.  You can even say it out loud, if you want.  Say it a few times.  Go ahead, say it.


Why do I use this sentence?  I will tell you.

Life is short.  We are never really going to know what might happen, or what may happen.  I want to make the most of the present moment.  I don’t fret too much anymore about what’s “going to happen” in the hypothetical future.  I worry about the here and now, and let the future take care of itself.  So much of what we obsess about in life is total nonsense.

Note here that I am not advocating that one should be frivolous or careless.  Far from it.  I am extremely focused, goal-oriented, and disciplined.

But I have made a conscious decision not to let stress and anxiety control my life.  I’m also not going to dance to the music made by others.

If I am with a girl, and we are enjoying time and life is good, that should be enough.

If I am with family members, and I am being a good son or brother, then that should be enough.

If someone hires me to do a job, and I am doing everything I can, that should be enough.

There is great power in saying “I don’t know.”  The sentence liberates you.  It sets boundaries.  It puts up a warning sign.

I am not saying that you should use this technique to dodge real responsibility, or to be a slacker, or to evade legitimate obligations.  Don’t take this too far.

But what I am saying is this.

No one has any right to reflect their anxieties and insecurities on to you.  And that is precisely what they are doing when they ask unreasonable questions, try to get inside your personal space, push you too fast, or rope you into unwanted commitments.  A good part of personal relations, I have found out from hard experience, is the act of defining boundaries.  “I don’t know” is often a better answer than simply shutting down the conversation.  It is often a better answer than getting angry, or saying “no.”

You are a valuable person.  If a girl is not satisfied with spending the present moment with you, and constantly seeks more and more, then there is a problem.  If a family member has some unrealistic expectations or refuses to acknowledge your goals and dreams, then there is a problem.  If a client or customer cannot accept the reality of a job, and has unreasonable expectations, then there is a problem.

And if you don’t define the boundaries, then guess what?  The other person will define them for you.  And chances are, you won’t like how that comes out.

Saying “I don’t know” is the best kind of honesty.  Because you truly don’t know what the future will bring.  And if someone is unwilling to accept that, then you need to draw your own conclusions from that.


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