The title of a recent New Statesman article caught my attention: “Why we need to hear the phrase “I don’t know” much more in a world of instant online opinions”. The article’s title is a bit of a contradiction: why say anything in case you don’t know? After all, silence is golden.
Nowadays, it seems that you must have an opinion about anything and everything. I no longer have an opinion about the Israeli-Palestine conflict as both parties have lost the moral high ground. It seems like a waste of time, arguing which party is less bad than the other one.
In my July 2016 blog, The lesser of two evils, I referred to a Bernie Sanders comment. He had stated that American voters see Hillary Clinton as “the lesser of two evils“, compared to Donald Trump. With the knowledge of hindsight, I was wrong considering that comment as “valid”. At times, it’s better to shut up than to give an opinion.
Nowadays, not giving an opinion is – perhaps – viewed as weak rather than wise. In a black-and-white world, such a view would indeed be justified. In the complex world of today, giving opinions can easily backfire because information is never complete, in time, and/or transparent.
Learning to say “I don’t know” was a harsh lesson for me. For an elaboration, please see my 2016 blog: Your own worst enemy. Ever since that lesson, I view saying “I don’t know” as a matter of strength rather than weakness. Nobody knows everything. Asking “why?” (several times!) is usually enough to deflate arrogant people.
Similarly, expert opinions are being downgraded to biased opinions or – worse – fake news. Alternatively, ignorant opinions are seen as news, like Trump claiming that China is paying for American import tariffs (eg, Fox News, NBC, Reuters).
In his 1742 poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, the English poet and professor Thomas Gray (1716-1771) wrote the following line: Where ignorance is bliss, it’s foolish to be wise. If I truly believed in this quote, I should have stopped writing. Moreover, since early 2015, the title of my blog changed into: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.
I think, feel and believe that there is still room for reason. If only because I’m approaching 650,000 page views worldwide with my blog. I don’t want to supply opinions; if anything I supply doubt. Doubt is the best way to keep an open mind in a world full of grey.
Some of my favourite quotes on doubt:
- “Doubt everything. Find your own light.” Buddha Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni
- “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” Voltaire
- “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Bertrand Russell
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
I know what you’re thinkin’
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise.