I Don’t Know

“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 become an invitation for others to share what they have to offer. The best leaders I know consistently and sincerely ask for their team’s ideas on how to address the endless supply of opportunities and challenges they face. This may sound obvious but the need to be the smartest person in the room drives many leaders to disconnection and isolation, the opposite of community.

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 client’s inherent wisdom to emerge.

It’s tough to remove the manhole cover. There are lots of days when it’s just too darn heavy. But I do have many encouraging examples of ways I have learned to let go of being right, to let go of being in control, and I am at my best when I let those examples help me to rise above myself.

I am reminded, again and again, that they all start with “I don’t know.”


photo of sewer on road

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