The Power of Knowing You Don’t Know Squat

This is a re-post of mine from early spring. Given a series of recent events, I think it’s due for a repeat. Not for me, of course. My chart is looking much more like “A” now. But maybe some other folks might find it useful. Right. Enough said.

I posted on IG today about back-to-normaling — a word I made up that refers to the responsible return to pre-Covid activities. I make up words frequently. Words such as f*ckedupness, the state of being f*cked up, which you will see used here often. Or trumpectomy, the removal of someone from your life because he supports Donald Trump. (STOP. THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT POLITICS. IT’S FUN FRIDAY. BEAR WITH ME A MINUTE.)

I thought about my crafting and implementation of this made-up trumpectomy word – and the arguing, disruption, and loss it caused in my life – as I began reading the book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, by Adam Grant. I first saw the book mentioned on The Next Big Idea Club, and was intrigued. Grant writes about the benefits of “having the humility to know what you don’t know and the curiosity to find out more.”

Now, I’m good with admitting what I don’t know when it comes to subject matter. Astronomy, for example. I am a night-sky-gazing junkie, but am ignorant about some aspects of what I’m viewing. I know I don’t know, and am looking forward to taking a college course in astronomy so I can know a little more and be a little less ignorant. But Grant isn’t talking about not knowing subjects. He’s talking about knowing what you don’t know about others’ viewpoints, how that not knowing affects your opinions, and influences the way you express those opinions.

And this is where I get into trouble. Big trouble. All. The. Time.

I am an opinionated debater (i.e., argumentative) from way back. In third grade it didn’t seem right that Greek gods are considered mythological while the God we refer to is accepted as religious fact by so many. In sixth grade my teacher called home before a field trip to see Fiddler on the Roof, concerned the film would provoke argument on my part. Before I married my son’s father, my own father issued him one warning to heed: “Natalie has opinions on everything, big and small, often in inverse proportion.” I don’t think a more thoughtfully worded “my daughter’s an argumentative dumbass” insult has ever been made by anyone before or since.

These charts illustrate how I process views that conflict with mine. Chart A shows my thinking according to Grant’s recommendations. Chart B shows reality. Here’s to authenticity.

Chart AFantasy

Chart BReality

Grant makes a case for what he calls thinking like a scientist. He says “the ability to rethink and unlearn” is a critical skill set, and we should be looking for reasons our views are wrong, not right. “When you’re thinking like a scientist, you don’t let your ideas become your identity,” says Grant. “You anchor your identity in mental flexibility (Chart A) rather than foolish consistency.” (Chart B)

Grant also calls on us to “complexify” rather than simplify our views on an emotional issue. To see opposing viewpoints not as black-and-white, one extreme or the other, but as a complex mix of layers in between that can overlap and, upon examination, offer a bit of common ground. Just imagine if we all could do this with politics. Wouldn’t the world be a better place? If we all could see the complexities of opposing viewpoints, wouldn’t our relationships be healthier and more resilient?

No doubt, I am stubborn as hell. As a midlife woman over 60, I am set in my ways and mental flexibility at this point is a challenge. But I’m getting a little better. A little. My experience traveling solo around the world was helpful practice in complexifying, examining, and understanding views that conflict with my own. I try to ask more questions, and do my best to listen more. I concede more. I avoid tequila.

And one thing I never do is argue on social media. I’m a recent entrant to social media platforms – here on WordPress for only 2 months, and I didn’t start on Instagram until I went on my 70-day solo trip around the world in 2019, just so my friends and family would know I wasn’t dead. I never argue with strangers online because I really don’t GAF if someone I’ve never met disagrees with my viewpoint or not. But someone I know IRL? Bring on the in-person debate.

I’ll continue trying to modify my Chart B so it more closely resembles Chart A and Grant’s recommendations. My level of success will vary, of course, depending on the viewpoint in question. When issues are personal and emotions are high, understanding is low.

What about you? How does your pie chart look?

I hope this weekend finds you getting closer to back-to-normaling in your part of the world. I think we are getting closer. At the very least I think we are getting further from total f*ckedupness. But I don’t know squat.

Happy Friday!

All images are my own, except as noted.

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  1. Sometimes, with certain people, I just like to play devil’s advocate in the middle of a discussion to let them know that other ideas are out there. I think people need to know both sides before they can have an informed opinion. It is why I never jump on bandwagons. I can however be passionate about my opinions, but I really don’t like to argue or debate. I am much better at thinking them through and writing them down, hence the blogging. Although sometimes I am just a sarcastic bitch. I do like writing sarcastic blogs.

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  2. Hmmmm interesting! I honestly think that my default is 💯 stubborn opinionated for sure. And partly it’s because no one ever really challenged me. I think I made it just too difficult for them to. Or I was just mostly around non-confrontational people. But in the last few years, I’ve had to ease up on this mostly bc of my love relationship. He has a few opinions that are in STARK contrast to mine. And he’s fine with that but I found myself trying to change his opinions and him feeling like his boundaries were really violated. So in order to literally keep the peace and keep my relationship in tact, I’ve had to consider his thoughts and ease up a bit. And it’s not so terrible. I don’t change my mind usually, but the open, gray area is kinda refreshing 🤍 those are my two cents for now! Thanks for this Natalie, it was lovely, as always 😘

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  3. Excellent food for thought!!! I also hope my chart is more like A and I think in some areas it is…but areas I’m passionate about? um, Chart B for sure, LOL I’m with you about arguing on social media, that couldn’t be more of a waste of time. Thanks for sharing this information 🙂

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  4. I’m not sure I can be honest of the lines of my chart. Perhaps I should take a poll of those around me to keep it honest. But I’ll add Grant’s book to my burgeoning list of ‘to be read’ though too much self-insight makes me tired. Trumpectomy! Good one that I think is useful for not only Trump supporters but can be used for the people who come with too much drama and negativity to be in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes to removing people with too much drama and negativity. Thank you for reading and commenting. I tried commenting on your post about the pool and gun, but it wouldn’t post for some reason. Gun control and rage debates definitely put my chart back to B.


      • Thanks for reading. I don’t know why you couldn’t comment. I don’t know ins and outs of WP, so like my car I just pray everything works. My grandson didn’t seem scared at all but he was in the bathroom when the whistles started and didn’t hear the shots or feel the panic.

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  5. “I avoid tequila” lol

    My pie chart used to look a lot like yours. I forget why, but one day I started judging less and listening more to actually try to understand why someone would think like they do…that’s been helpful.

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