I don’t know much of anything. There are certainly some things I believe, and some things I feel, but not a whole lot that I can claim to know. Without question there are things that I experience, and when that experience is consistently observed, then that may be as good as knowing gets for me. I’m simultaneously jealous and suspicious of people who claim to know a lot of things that I think are unknowable. I think they’ve unintentionally mixed up knowledge with belief, and that’s easy to do. We use those words almost interchangeably, but they are not the same.
Getting comfortable with not knowing much is tricky. I’m walking around with access to all of the world’s information in my pocket. And at least half the time I’m using that device to read Deadspin or browse Instagram. It’s not that those activities are necessarily stupid, but maybe it’s a little bit like asking the librarian if they have any comic books. All the information I could ask for is at my fingertips and, therefore, it’s easier to take for granted. We all do it.
Here’s the deal, though: my monkey brain likes certainty. Believing that I know something – perhaps especially if I believe I know something that not everyone else knows – is comforting and empowering. Admitting that I don’t know almost feels like weakness. Here’s a example: what happens when I die? If you’d asked me that in the first thirty years of my life I would have known the answer. Now I don’t have a clue. Not a damn clue. I’ll either figure it out one day or I won’t. I don’t have much control over it now. I’m familiar with a lot of the constructs. I’ve heard what quite a few people think. But me? Yeah…I don’t know. And I don’t think anyone else knows either. We should all be okay with that.
Being a parent to three inquisitive kids makes not knowing a real pain in the ass sometimes. I want to know, either for their sakes or for my own ego, but neither of those motivations is entirely helpful. I’m more inclined to think they’re better served – now and in the future – by hearing their dad confess to simply not knowing rather than feeding them a line that will eventually crumble. And by saying those words, “I don’t know,” we can start a discussion. By doing that I haven’t just dumped a bunch of my ideas on them, I’ve invited them into the conversation. And in that conversation, if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll stumble into a few things we can know. Like life can be hard sometimes. Like we belong to one another. And like right now, this moment, is all we have and it’ll be gone before we know it.