I don’t know.

Three simple words.

Three simple words with many different implications.  At first glimpse, someone who says “I don’t know” too often appears to be ignorant or unable to commit to a position.  Maybe their “I don’t know” carries a lack of experience with it.  In a culture where it seems every scientific discovery has been found, “I don’t know” almost has a lazy feel to it.

The last time you asked someone a sincere question with a deep desire to know them better and they replied with an “I don’t know,” what was your response?  Did you want to grab hold of them and shake their knowing out of them the way you shake a coconut out of its tree?  Did you find yourself wanting to answer their “I don’t know” the same way you would answer a fill-in-the-blank question on a history exam?  The right answer is out there–you most certainly know it–so why can’t they know it?  You just want them to think; to apply themselves and work out their knowing muscle the way a bodybuilder sculpts their body with weights and resistance.

Isn’t it interesting that with loved ones we always know what’s best for them when they say, “I don’t know?”

I don’t know.

Three simple words.

In The Second Book of the Tao, Stephen Mitchell says on page 94:

You can’t talk about the ocean

with a frog who lives in a well:

he is bounded by the space he inhabits.

You can’t talk about ice

with an insect who was born in June:

he is bounded by a single season.

You can’t talk about the (Unknown)

with a person who thinks he knows something:

he is bounded by his own beliefs.

The (Unknown) is vast and fathomless.

You can understand only by stepping

beyond the limits of yourself.

(the word Tao changed to Unknown for clarity)

I’m certain you have encountered someone who knows what is best for you during the “I don’t know” period of your life.  Everybody is willing to shove their agenda down your throat when you “don’t know.”  Talking to someone who is bounded by his own beliefs adds more confusion instead of bringing clarity.  Dealing with these people who “know” can be exhausting and counterproductive.  Be cautious of the person in your life who always claims to “know” what is best for you.

When I was younger and more full of myself, I was certain I avoided the “I don’t know” mentality.  Whether it was the big issues of religion, politics, morality, poverty, or race; I thought my views were solid as concrete and steady as steel.  There’s an interesting transformation that happens as one progresses through their twenties and thirties.  No matter how secure you are in your beliefs and knowing, life always has a way of disrupting your certainty.


I don’t know why heartbreak visits your front door.

I don’t know why your dreams turn to nightmares.

I don’t know why you weren’t protected as a child.

I don’t know why your innocence was robbed from you.

I don’t know the secrets to our existence and our origins.

I don’t know why your relationships have imploded.

I don’t know why your business failed and left your family vulnerable.

I don’t know why evil seems to come in waves while goodness arrives in whispers.

I don’t know what tomorrow may bring–for me, for you, for my loved ones.

I don’t know the vast and fathomless Unknown from where I came.

I don’t know the vast and fathomless Unknown for where I will return.

I don’t know why my failures turned out to be blessings.

I don’t know what causes a father to turn away from his family.

I don’t know why a mother would reject or abandon her children.

I don’t know why I love you this very moment.

I don’t know where hatred and discrimination come from.

I don’t know why some wounds never heal while others vanish within hours.

I don’t know why the past bleeds into the present without our permission.

I don’t know why cheaters win and bullies flourish.

I don’t know the fastest way to healing, the shortest distance to peace, or the simplest route to joy.


It may sound counter-intuitive, but as I began to question everything I thought I knew; I realized that I knew very little!  It’s a very humbling place to arrive at.  Just as Stephen Mitchell said, “You can understand only by stepping beyond the limits of yourself,” I had to be willing to admit I may not know–and that my loved ones who were so certain may not know either.  I opened myself to infinite possibilities and have arrived at an amazing destination–I don’t know. What at first felt to me as a sign of weakness or ignorance to not know has since turned into the fertile soil where my ideas are allowed to grow.

With pressure from friends and family to participate in groupthink (I encourage you to look up groupthink on wikipedia after finishing this blog), I have graciously and deliberately chosen to step back and say I don’t know.

I don’t know.

Three simple words.

“I don’t know” can be lonely because our culture demands certainty while our ego fights for our rightness.  Certainty is like that belt you wear that’s too tight or the straitjacket that’s impossible to escape; whereas “I don’t know” is open, free, and malleable.

You know what I have come to truly love about “I don’t know?”  People are always eager to share with me what they do know.  People open up to me about the most bizarre and amazing things and it’s not because I’m some guru who has all of life’s answers.

“I don’t know” is also where my source of creativity originates.  “I don’t know” is the humble invitation I give to my Muse.  “I don’t know” is moving the pen across the page and inviting the beautiful Muse to sit and stay awhile. She just needs to know she’s invited and that I care for her as much as she cares for me.  She doesn’t like to be used or taken advantage of any more than I do.  She wants to be in a partnership.  She wants me to woo her and in return she will woo me with the words she whispers to me.  She wants to dance with me and feel my hand on the small of her back.  She longs for me to give her goosebumps then she’ll reciprocate by giving me goosebumps through the words I string together on the page.  “I don’t know” is the space where she desires to meet me for a very sensual and intimate exchange.

So where are you at on the “I don’t know” scale? Do you arrogantly hold on to your certainty as a possession? Do you ignorantly subscribe to groupthink and willingly lose your individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking? Are you open to the possibility that your worldview may be wrong?

I don’t know.

Three simple words.

With all there is to be confused by in this universe, with the Unknown being vast and fathomless, and with my long-winded argument to accept the “I don’t know;” there is one thing I am still certain about.  There is one certainty that transcends all worldviews, all politics, all religions, and all family dynamics.  So what is my one certainty in a life full of “I don’t know?”

One simple word.


Peace my friends!




  1. I don’t know what to say…
    One thing that entered the space of unknowing in the dark cavern of my mind is a quote from Anne Lamott:
    “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.”
    The characteristic of the “I don’t know” I love is humility. Humility invites. Humility opens the doors of conversation and connection. “I don’t know” is a conduit of connection, don’t you think?
    I like how you described “I don’t know” as ” “I don’t know” is open, free, and malleable.”
    Like I said, I don’t know what to say, you know?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerry, yes, I love that Lamott quote!!! Doubt has slowly transformed from an evil word for me to a cozy cuddled-up-in-a-blanket-next-to-the-fire kind of warmth. I’m thankful for your response and your friendship! And as always, I believe you’re spot on!!! I don’t know and humility walk hand in hand!!


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