Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"I Don't Know"

The philosopher Socrates was driven by a thirst for truth. He would begin his dialogues by often imploring someone if he knew what "x" (justice, love, piety, etc) meant. The person would give a ready answer hoping to solve the problem of "x" and end any further dialogue with Socrates. However, Socrates would find various problems with the man's definition and would press him on it, until the man would finally confess (either out of frustration or sincerity) to Socrates, "I don't know," at which point Socrates and his friend recognizing their own ignorance, would then dialogue and think together about how to find a solution.

In academic settings (like grad school), it seems every other moment is an opportunity to impress others with your knowledge. We want for people to think of us as intelligent, and not just generally knowledgeable, but uniquely intelligent. It is frustrating though, when you want an answer from someone and instead of simply saying, "I don't know" they'll respond with a lengthy twenty minute exposition full of technical jargon, but afterwards you're left thinking, "You still haven't answered my question." The truth is that students often get together and open their mouths for countless hours thinking that knowledge is abounding when it rarely is. Lots of words are going back and forth, but no one really knows what they are talking about. A friend of mine calls it "pooling ignorance."

When we are asked something, we hate saying, "I don't know." And I think I can understand why. We don't want to admit our own short-comings, weaknesses, and oversights. By saying, "I don't know," we are revealing our own incompleteness. Honestly, it hurts our pride to say, "I don't know." It suggests need. 

If however, like Socrates, we really care about truth and we really care about the people we are talking with then we should not be ashamed to confess our own ignorance. Moreover, as Christians we should readily admit our own shortcomings and avoid puffed up heads.

I hope when we're asked something we don't know the answer to, we not only save everyone a whole lot of time, but we speak out of love instead of pride and say, "I don't know."

Faith Colloquium : A Blog about Theology, Philosophy, Church, and Culture

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