Part of being effective in life is having the ability and confidence to say, “I don’t’ know.”   

If you think about it, there is much more we don’t know than we know. In fact, each time I learn something new, I usually realize there is even more that I don’t know, which is a great impetus to keep on learning.

I remember asking college students in one of my classes to interview someone they felt had true mastery in life. One interviewed a rancher in his eighties who had this wonderful answer: “You should have interviewed me when I was much younger, when I thought I knew something.”

There is so much emphasis in life on knowing, on being smart, on having quick answers for questions. It would be great if you could teach your kids to respect the other side of the coin—not knowing. 

A recent ad for Direct TV shows a father responding to a question posed by his small son:

“I don’t know. That’s a great question. You have a lot of great questions.”

There is a lot to like in this short piece.

  • The father‘s willingness to admit that he doesn’t know all the answers is great role modeling for his son.
  • Acknowledging his son for having great questions has more power than telling him he is smart—it’s a phrase that encourages curiosity about the world and a willingness to ask questions.
  • This thoughtful interaction signals that the father is open to talking with and being influenced by his son, which counteracts the tendency many parents have to dominate their children.

Your kids already respect you for what you know and what you can do. Perhaps it’s time to let them know that not knowing is pretty powerful also.

“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will.” —Vernon Howard, American philosopher