Authentic Responsibility #6: As a human being, I will sometimes not know the answer to a question. I am responsible to say “I don’t know,” continue respecting myself, and not accept any disrespect for “not knowing.”
When I was in high school, my friend and her dad invited me to attend a leadership conference. During the conference, the speaker asked if we had any “Drug-Free Zone” signs in our school district. I nodded and then affirmed that we did. My friend’s dad asked me where it was located. I knew I had seen one but I honestly didn’t know where it was. So I said what first came into my mind: “It’s at the entrance to our middle and high schools.” My friend’s dad vocalized his skepticism, which I then countered by insisting that there was a sign there. On the drive home, we stopped by the entrance to our middle and high schools and to my embarrassment, there was no sign. On the short drive to my house, I endured a lecture about the importance of knowing the truth from my friend’s dad as he rebuked me smugly for speaking out of turn.
I remember how I felt from both ends of the situation: I felt terrible for saying something that ended up being untrue, and I felt humiliated that my friend’s dad had reacted like a jerk when I was wrong. And although I wasn’t a responsible adult when this occurred, it reminds me of three important points about when we don’t know something:
- It’s okay to not know. I did not really know the answer to the question. However, my childish pride wouldn’t allow me to say that I did not know. With the internet, social media, and smartphones, it seems we are expected to know everything. But we are not. We can continue learning every day, but we must remember that it is okay to swallow our pride and say, “I don’t know.” Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” Humble yourself and admit when you don’t know, or you may face disgrace.
- Let it go. Another issue that stems from pride is that we may continue to hold on to something, to believe we must be right or prove to others that we are right or smart. I did exactly this when I was challenged by my friend’s father in front of the group. Instead of admitting that I might not have known and moving forward, I pressed the issue. Maybe you don’t know and yet you don’t want to feel inferior. I challenge you to let it go and keep respecting yourself. Not knowing does not make you inferior! (1 John 3:20)
- Don’t accept disrespect. I was only a teenager, so I could not correct my friend’s father’s disrespect of me. However, I learned a good lesson about how to handle when you are wrong and when you are right. I try not to be disrespectful towards others who may not know the answers. And if I’m disrespected, I address that as politely and firmly as I can. Ephesians 5:11 encourages us to stand up for ourselves, noting that we are to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Disrespecting others is unfruitful, so expose to the light of Christ—in love—any disrespect shown you, and reject it.
Now, as an adult, when I don’t know something, I freely admit it with confidence! And when someone else doesn’t know something, I show them respect—treating them how I would want to be treated. Only God knows everything. Once you’ve accepted that, you can begin to walk in humility and allow God to lift you up.
When is a time you didn’t know the answer to something? How did others respond?