Don’t speculate, just admit you don’t know. Especially when trying to make a decision, keep in mind what you know, what you don’t know, and what you need to know.

Don’t Speculate—Just Admit You Don’t Know

just admit you don’t know
Photo by Chris Ainsworth on Unsplash

# 64 on my, 99 Life Tips–A List is: The wise know that they do not know, are not afraid to admit that they do not know, are wiser for this, and remain undeterred in the effort to know.

I would reduce this tip to Don’t Speculate!… but the meaning is not exactly the same. Socrates is famous for being wise. Just as famously he did not boast of it. One of the hallmarks of the wise is their willingness to lean in to their own ignorance. The foolish and simple-minded are certain…and almost certainly wrong as a result.

When you don’t know something (which is often, right?), don’t try to fill in the gaps with guesses, wishes, and hopes. Just admit you don’t know. Speculations won’t get you any closer to factual knowledge and may lead you further astray. Just carefully approach the unknowns armed with what you do know. 

Back to Socrates for a sec. The method named after him, The Socratic Method, is a question-and-answer style approach to truth detection. Philosopher types refer to this style by the fancy-schmancy name–dialectic. This technical sounding word just means questions and answers between two viewpoints. In the method, the questions are as important as the answers. The questions clarify ideas as they get more and more focused on the essential knowledge sought.

A follower of this approach learns that defining terms is important. Thus, the method seeks to categorize, catalogue and capture truth in words. This is useful, though one of my favorite words is ineffable, which means, literally, “too great or extreme to be expressed in words.” 

Ineffable experiences and truths are my personal favorites, but that’s a topic for another day. Admittedly, truths that resist definition, resist dissemination as well.

For a deeper dive on the topic, written in a very approachable format, read the late Robert Pirsig’s iconic Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Returning to the tip at hand, and especially when trying to make a decision, keep in mind what you know, what you don’t know, and what you need to know. The last is the most important point. It bears repeating. Ask yourself what you need to know in order to make the best decision. 

When you’ve determined what you need to know don’t rely on your own speculations to fill in the answers. If you need to know what someone else thinks in order to make the most informed decision, ask them. Don’t just guess. 

Now, to wrap this one up with a huge caveat. Lazy, uncaring, ignorance isn’t a trait you want. There is no famous philosopher named Mediocrates. There is nothing admirable about wallowing in the dark.

When in doubt, be wise–or at least act wise. Don’t speculate, just admit that you don’t know.

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  1. Pingback: 99 Life Tips – A List : Greg Proffit Writing

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