“Oh, I don’t know about that”


IMG_1680Oh, I don’t now about that.

This second Welsh phrase, “Oh I don’t know about that” was equally as fascinating. While on the surface it seems to be quite benign, in reality it has weighty relevance to this American writer. Over the course of fifty plus years, I have freely adopted, internalized and pushed back on a need to know or, at the very least, not let on that I don’t know. Yeah, I know, not such a healthy way of being in the world.

The first time I encountered this phrase, I was in the village pub having a conversation with a local farmer about a number of topics. As I began to talk about the Roman settlements on the mountains, he replied, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” A simple telling statement that I had ventured into a topic about which he was uninformed. Not a big deal, right?

For him it wasn’t. He didn’t know. He offered up no explanation for not knowing. No excuses. No apologies. No pretending he was more informed than he was. No false pretenses that he wanted or cared to be more informed on the topic. No diversions to impress. No diversions to hide his lack of knowledge. No gestures to encourage or welcome my insights or “enlightened” thoughts. Just simply, “Oh, I don’t know about that.”

This simple, matter-of-fact statement took me by surprise. I don’t know that I have ever encountered someone who simply stated, “I don’t know,” while simultaneously asserting, quite assuredly, no need or impulse to know. I was caught off guard. I didn’t know how to respond or how to continue on. In that hollow space that is so often filled with curious interchange, I was left bearing witness to my inability to conjure up an adequate response where none was necessary.

I am not accustomed to people simply stating, for all to hear nonetheless, that they don’t know something. My familiar social, professional, religious, and familial circles are bursting with people who pretend to know, engage in knowing, and go to great lengths to be informed. And, let’s be clear about this, I am one of them.

Professionally people look to me everyday for an expansive knowledge base to inform our work together. My Ivy League education taught me to always be curious with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Our American culture encourages us to be in the know. Our mainstream and social media bombards us with vast amounts of information everyday that we might stay informed on a wide variety of matters both relevant and ridiculous.

Throughout my time in Wales, in a variety of settings, I encountered people who simply acknowledged their inability to engage a topic or answer a question with such an unapologetic, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” Each time, I listened and observed with a desire to find, dare I say now, that same stillness.

Questions to walk with:

  1. Does this experience of needing to be knowledgeable have relevance in your life? How? Share an example.
  2. Where in your life do you present as if you know more than you actually do? What is your internalized response to being caught uniformed or without knowing?
  3. How might this phrase “Oh, I don’t know about that” change the way you engage with others? How do you suppose others would be changed by your willingness to simply, matter-of-factly assert without apology or fillers that you are uniformed about a topic?