“The human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. ‘Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,’ it invariably says. Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.”
– Richard Rohr
If you want to encourage more compassion, start with “I don’t know.” Your vulnerability will signal to others that their vulnerability is ok, and normal. The other day, not knowing what to say to a sick friend, I somewhat shamefully Googled, “what to say to a sick friend.” It turns out that there are some very compassionate people in the world with more practice than me in being in those tough situations. My “I don’t know” led me to the help I needed.
If you want to establish a stronger community, start with “I don’t know.” You will signal to others that it is the combination of your perspectives and experience that form a strong community. You will become an invitation for others to share what they have to offer. The leader of the band I’m a part of consistently asks for the group’s ideas about what music to perform and is always open to suggestions about how we can most successfully sing and play.
If you want to discover more wisdom, start with “I don’t know.” A momentary pause leaves space for more thoughtful consideration, for a deeper learning to take place. Early in my work as a leadership coach, I felt self-conscious pressure to fill in any gaps in the conversation. I have learned to pause and allow brief silences to serve as catalysts for my curiosity.
It’s tough to remove the manhole cover, and I’m not sure I will ever be rid of it entirely. But I have enough encouraging examples of ways I have learned to let go of being right, to let go of being in control.
I am reminded, again and again, that they all start with “I don’t know.”
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.