It is impossible to know everything about every topic. The Internet is one representation of our combined global human knowledge and is so vast, dynamic, almost fluid, often controversial, sometimes plain wrong, and even hateful or funny. Yet if for a moment you consider the Internet to be an approximation of all current human knowledge, what percentage of its content do you know? I confess, I know nothing, a drop in the ocean.
Here is another perspective. We come to this world with much genetic programming and yet absolutely no memory or knowledge of what our parents, grandparents, or humanity have learned prior to our arrival (one of the reasons for this blog). We have to learn it all over again. Even if we spend every moment of our life learning, experimenting, and experiencing, we only learn as much as our time allows (more or less). Therefore, again given the thousands of years of history and the billions that have come before us, we individually know nothing or infinitely little.
Given that we know little and at best can only be experts or have extensive knowledge in a few disciplines through years of hard work and constant learning, why is it so hard for so many people to simply say “I do not know” or at least to qualify the extent of their knowledge when speaking about a topic? As a simple example, I went to a store yesterday where the customer service representative could not answer any of my questions and gave me explanations about irrelevant items that I didn’t care about; maybe thinking his lack of knowledge would be less than obvious. When he saw the doubtful look on my face, after his long commentary he said he had only worked there for two weeks.
It is not possible to know everything; so in cases when you do not know something (even if you should), I hope you choose to answer truthfully that you just do not know. Imagine the extent of the impact this simple change could have if politicians, business leaders, parents, friends, and everyone around us told the truth when they did not have the answers.
In any given discipline, we all belong to one of the four groups: 1) those that do not know that they know, 2) those that know that they do not know, 3) those that know that they know, and 4) those that do not know that they do not know). Perhaps you agree that the worst category is 4). People in this category are unable to learn as they do not realize what they are missing. If you are not sure which applies to you, it’s best to start in 2) since we all belong in this category across disciplines.