I Don't Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't)
Imagine you're at a party with a boss, teacher or first
date—someone whose admiration you want to earn. This person brings up
a book you've never read. You panic at first, then nod along with his opinions,
hoping not to be exposed and feeling, rightly, like a fraud. This
experience—and others like it—inspired Leah Hager Cohen's
slim new book, which advocates us all admitting our gaping holes in knowledge.
Cohen looks at psychological studies, school-teaching practices and protocols
in police stations to understand the consequences of feigned or imagined
expertise, then expands the discussion to those instances when we actually do
know what's happening but can't articulate or admit it. Case in point: a
co-pilot who doesn't stand up to his pilot about the ice on the wings of a jet.
What keeps us intrigued is her deeper investigation as to why we so mightily
fear not knowing. Yes, we think we'll look dumb if we're unaware of a factoid or
movie title, but when it comes to larger life questions, we worry that if we
don't have the definitive answers, we'll have to admit that our jobs, families
and lives are both unknowable and, ye gads, uncontrollable. There must be some
way, she argues, to accept our cases of inevitable cosmic ignorance, and to
celebrate certain ones, such as an unexpected snowfall—with "its
magisterial indifference, its inexhaustible mysteriousness."
— Leigh Newman