The Art of Not Knowing

Hannah Olson | @thehannykate

A large theme of politics is asking what will come towards the future and speculating what exactly that will be. There is a general lean towards always asking, what’s next? What does the 2020 election cycle have in store for us? Quite simply, no one really knows what is going to happen. That’s the beauty of the future, no one really knows what it has in store. Experts and even regular people can speculate all they want but truly no one knows.

I find there to be a simple beauty in not knowing everything. After meeting with Nicole Peckumn of DC Homeland security and emergency management, I realized I related to something she said incredibly strongly. “Be your authentic self, it will get you the farthest.”

This honesty is rather refreshing for me. This entire time, I have been owning up to not knowing something. I’m not a politics major, and while I am a rather intelligent college student, I am far from the most knowledgeable on a lot of topics that are going on. In looking introspectively, I realized I have created a sort of intellectual humility. For me, using Peckumn’s idea of being my authentic self, has actually been taking back the joke of “I’m the least knowledgeable one here on xyz” and realizing it’s a humble approach that not as many people in politics ever truly admit too.

A large takeaway from all the different speakers we’ve been hearing has been you need trust. Bob Coastas recommended to “take people seriously, they want respect.” This is truer rather than ever, and as a society, we are simply trusting on other abilities to trust that whoever is taking might not know anything about what they are talking about. Personally, as a large consumer of media, I would rather hear someone tell them they don’t know, then make up some cockamamie story only to find out its false.

During a session, Dr. Lara Brown threw out a statistic about how Hilary Clinton had a 17% chance of winning the election. This was simply because of how she was at the same party as the incumbent. While Clinton did end up, obviously not in the oval office, Brown truly didn’t know what would’ve happened that election cycle. It’s incredibly easy to throw out statistics about who had a chance of winning or that if this person does this, they’re bound to win. The truth is, no one really knows what the fate of this country is. We’ll start to know more in February 2020 when the nation turns its heads to stare at Iowa for the Caucus’. Even then, we are not going to know exactly what the outcome will be until November 2020.

Ronald Reagan famously addressed the nation to admit how his administration really didn’t know what they were getting into with the Iran-Contra scandal.

“Now, what should happen when you make a mistake is this: You take your knocks, you learn your lessons, and then you move on. That’s the healthiest way to deal with a problem… You know, by the time you reach my age, you’ve made plenty of mistakes. And if you’ve lived your life properly — so, you learn. You put things in perspective. You pull your energies together. You change. You go forward.”

Reagan admitted that he was unsure what was going to happen, but they made the call for the situation that they found would have the best outcome for the American people. It is a knowable thing to go on television and admit that you are wrong, even more, noble to admit that you might’ve not known what the right answer was all along.

“We’ve stopped talking to each other, we’ve stopped listening,” longtime campaign strategist, Mo Elleithlee told a large group of my peers. A lot of this stopped dialogue is a bi-product of the inability of many to admit they don’t know something. Even in simple discussions with my classmates, I will admit I do not know. I didn’t vote in the Minnesota 2018 election because I would rather be someone who didn’t vote, then an uninformed voter. Throwing your head in the sand, and shutting down conversations because you’re too stubborn to admit you don’t know something is far more dangerous than actually admitting that your human. I will continue to practice intellectual humility for this reason. When I admit I don’t know something, I often find myself learning more from both my peers and those who I wouldn’t even consider my intellectual equal because their knowledge is far more than mine. Just saying by saying “I don’t know”, doesn’t mean the discourse ends there. It just means we all have more to learn, and that discussion can and should continue once the education process continues.


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