Oh, I Dunno . . . 4 Steps Toward Humility

In a recent interview on Inquiring Minds, Stephen Dubner said something that stuck with me: certainty is really dangerous.

Indeed. We all need to say "I don't know" more often. That's easier than it sounds. In this day and age, it seems that everyone has to have an opinion, and to waver from that opinion--if you entertain doubts or try to consider another point of view--is a grave sin. I know that I don't like to admit that I am not the ultimate authority on anything. Claiming authority on a topic makes me feel relevant.

But what makes me think that people would like being around me if I think I am the ultimate authority on everything? After all, I know I don't enjoy being around people like that.

So, how can I learn to say "I don't know" more often? I have found these steps helpful:

  1. List a few reasons why you might be wrong.
  2. Imagine how you would behave if any of those reasons might be correct.
  3. Make note of any differences. Do you feel scared, relieved, or confused?
  4. What do these feelings tell you about your need for certainty?

These steps have not eliminated my desire for certainty, my desire to be right all the time. But I have found that they make it easier to say "I don't know." And those three words have given me the freedom to love people who I would otherwise shun because I might find their thoughts and opinions distasteful.


I love being around people who are as stupefied as I am.
— Stephen Dubner