The power of saying ‘I don’t know’

There is much we don’t know about.  While we may know about our own lives and that of close family and friends, our area of work or what is happening near where we live, there is much going on that we don’t know about.  It is good to be curious, good to listen to others and good to learn about new things.  Recently I have become a convert to saying, ‘I don’t know’ after years of saying, ‘I know’.

The reason comes from a childhood incident when a teacher told me I was stupid because I confessed that I did not know the words to a Christmas carol by heart.  I was being truthful but was upset when this woman declared that I was stupid in front of all my classmates.  So I started saying ‘I know’ to everything and saying ‘Yes’ to everything.  Both are stupid reactions but how is a child to know?  I carried this shame and reaction in my heart for many decades although I had long left that school and teacher.  It is only now that I realise that saying ‘I know’ is actually stupid.  There is very little we know and most of what we know is of little importance. It is better to be humble and look at the world with new eyes of learning and gratitude.  It is also such a release. When you say, ‘I know’, you are also waiting to be found out that you actually don’t know. So less stressful!

It is also so powerful to say this because you open your heart to new experiences, to be able to listen and to gain knowledge.  Even if you find out later that you knew something, it still adds to your skill and knowledge to hear it from someone else.  Most people are keen to talk and tell you something.  So the ‘I don’t know, please tell me’ has actually increased my knowledge and I have made more friends by being able to listen.  It doesn’t sound unprofessional at all- in fact it makes you look more professional by wanting to listen and understand colleagues.  Social media wants you to look like an all-knowing clever (and barbed) quip-a-dozen personality.  But opting out of that restriction is always an improvement to one’s life!  Be simple, be ignorant- or to follow the quote beloved of Steve Jobs, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’.

A quiet confidence

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When you know from within, you really know.  There is no shouting about it!  People who have the quiet confidence know their worth themselves- they do not seek glory from outside or any kind of validation.  It is this kind of confidence we should strive to develop from childhood.  This is true power!

spare change for the soul

Research has revealed again and again that buying things does not make us happy. On the other hand, buying ‘experiences’ can make us really happy.  So for example, buying a piano might give you a great buzz and bring you attention from friends but playing that piano will give a greater and more lasting happiness. But the key is that you need love playing on a piano, otherwise nothing about the piano will give you happiness.  It will simply fill you with sadness each time you look at it, and it may even become something you can’t wait to get rid of.

According to an article in the Psychologist, ‘[the]… key to happiness is ‘identity expression’… i.e. Does a particular purchase express your personality and values? If it does, you are likely to feel happier.’  The author of the article says that a friend once said, “Happiness is being able to express who I am.”  So in other words, learn to know yourself thoroughly and then only give time and money to those things that enhance yourself.

Arian Huffington, the founder of Huffington Post, says that the key to happiness is knowing your limits.  This is another way of saying that the key to happiness is knowing ourselves fully (including our limits).  I used to think that running myself ragged, helping others would bring me happiness.  Fortunately I came across a Buddhist principle called Jigyo Keta which means happiness for ourselves and others, i.e. not one or the other other but both.  When we can respect ourselves truly, we can respect others truly.  Happiness just for ourselves is selfish and a ‘small goal’ while happiness that is just for other is martyrdom and sometimes not even wanted by the receiver.  Would you like to receive money from a street beggar?  I bet not.  But if you had some spare change, you could give that to the beggar.  So the key to happiness is knowing ourselves and then giving to others what we can give best.  A rich man can give away money, a musician can play for others and so on.  This is the contributive and balanced life.

Don’t run yourself ragged- always keep some spare change for your soul!

Happy invention

Daisaku Ikeda says “Everything passes. Both soaring joys and crushing sorrows fade away like a dream. However, the knowledge of having lived one’s life to the fullest never disappears.”

My life has been quite full so far and yes, I have done foolish things too and wasted time.  However, the time that I have spent following my heart have been the most joyful (including writing these blogs, which have helped me to understand myself).  Yes, I can to look back at the foolish stuff I have done, yet they were learning experiences, even though they may have been sometimes unhappy.  The present is the only moment to live, fully.  We don’t know what the future may bring but as Alan Kay says, “The best way to predict the future is invent it.”

Happy invention today to all of you!