190. The Power of Saying "IDK"

190. The Power of Saying "IDK"

IDK is a short form of “I Don’t Know.” In our modern hyper-information age, saying “IDK” feels humiliating and unintelligent. Our pride and ego are part of the problem. But the bigger problem is that humans despise uncertainty.

Brain researchers tell us that our brain considers uncertainty as a “threat.” It causes an “away” response, which involves emotional stimulation in limbic areas that issue a “fight or flight” response. No wonder why when someone challenges our knowledge, we tend to fight back with the information we already have and become very assertive, regardless of whether it is true or not. It is our effort to regain certainty.

Thanks to the rise of the internet, we are exposed to a lot of information. But the downside is that we often have “partial” information about many subjects or topics. In our effort to become “certain,” we end up filling the gaps ourselves. But by doing so, we rob ourselves of the opportunity the uncertainty brings to grow and learn.

Many scientists and mathematicians who made groundbreaking discoveries confessed the pain of going through the period of uncertainty when they had no assurance whether their effort will solve the problem. However, what helped them contribute to the scientific breakthrough was this: They chose to be uncomfortably uncertain rather than comfortably wrong. Instead of an immediate sense of “certainty” that comes from “knowing enough,” they enjoyed the curiosity and sensitivity that gets heightened by a sense of “uncertainty.”

It was said that a famous physicist Richard Feynman thought of himself as a “confused ape” even after earning a Nobel Prize. However, he confessed that such an attitude allowed him to remain curious about everything around him and see nuances that others often missed.

To be an “open” person is to acknowledge many “gaps” in our knowledge. A great discovery of ourselves, others, and God comes from recognizing that we know many “known unknown,” things that we think we know that we do not know yet.

When I read books on kindle, I used to skip over vague words, thinking I knew them through context. But now it has become a habit of mine to search a dictionary for those words. I’ve learned that when I stop to search the dictionary, I usually find unexpected meanings and gain more clarity of what I am reading. Life can be exciting when we are not afraid to say “IDK” and humbly explore the uncertainty.