Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Adult Question Series - But Why Should I Say I Don't Know

While in class yesterday I proposed the idea that if we were more secure than we were today by the end of the course I'd consider my job done. I defined being secure as a person, as simply being aware of what we know and what we don't and being comfortable with it. The fact that we can say we do not know something (fully or partially or clearly) is highly empowering and freeing. It becomes the starting point of all learning and growth.

'But that's philosophy,' said one student in agitation. How can you teach something dangerous like that. It's impractical to say I don't know especially if I am a teacher. Students come to me thinking I know and if I tell them I do not know they will lose respect. Instead of saying I do not know I will say I know this and I will learn some more....

I reiterated that the idea was to be aware of what one knows and what one does not - that is all. If the student asks something the teacher does not know, it is not the teacher's job to say 'I know' or worse  'how come you don't even know that' or even 'how dare you ask me that'. Whatever the response, it is clear that the teacher does not know. The teacher can get angry, can punish the student, can lie but cannot escape the fact that he or she does not know what she does not know. The student, if he or she has half the average intelligence of the average person, will sense quite quickly that the teacher does not know which is why the teacher is putting it off one way or another. That is a sure way of losing respect because the student knows the teacher is being dishonest to him, to the job and to himself. On the other hand if the teacher is secure enough to say I am sorry but I do not know that and I can learn about it and teach you or even point in some direction where the student can learn that, the student's respect for the teacher increases.

Fact is that no one knows everything. So it's perfectly fine to say I know this and I don't know this. If I stay in my 'I know' mode you are stuck because your doors are closed. But even if you have some idea, not a very clear idea, it is better to say 'I think this is what it means, what do you think?' That would start a debate where you can learn about another perspective, where you can test your knowledge against the knowledge of others and everyone grows.

But if I say I don't know I will lose my job, my position was another doubt I heard sometime ago. It is not that you have to advertise the fact that you do not know to the wrong people who will sack you. Find the place and space where you can learn. For that you must use your common sense and not look at the rule book all the time. But whichever way you look at it - it is still the most honest, right and practical way to grow.

If you say 'I know' the story ends there. If you say 'I don't know' it begins. It's incredible how much energy gets wasted in defending your 'I know' position.

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