The Well of Not Knowing: Recognizing Early Influences

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In a light-hearted spirit, I continue to discover there is so much to this topic that I “don’t know” quite how to sort it out myself. I know the well is exactly the place to be. I can dip and let it provide me with perspectives and musings that do not have to be complete answers. I will keep dipping long after the last sentences.

The wells are not about giving answers. They are sources of nourishment, insights, and new perspectives, dipping and adding and growing. Just as when we water seedlings, they grow, and when we water mature gardens they continue to show their full colors or produce. Wells gift me and us with nourishment for the journey and we are meant to come back for more.

So I have discovered that I do not have to know everything about not knowing to write about it…to dip for a while and then come back another time.

At the same time, there’s a little bit of discomfort present in me, as I don’t know if I am going to be able to make sense of this on behalf of others after having committed to the topic.

You see, I am ok if it is just about me, but when it comes to being present to others in sharing thoughts and ideas there is a tendency to think I need to be in some kind of knowing, and that the thoughts and ideas have to be complete and ready to serve up in a neat package.

Not knowing is far from a neat package.

Not knowing is also something I love pondering. I am in ongoing curiosity, figuring out how I can live within all of its different levels.

Earliest Influences

What has been running through my mind is what I believe is an unintentional but significantly foundational imprint that happens when we are very young. It continues to build year after year until, at times, it might even give a sense of paralysis.

It leaves one feeling that “not knowing” is bad, embarrassing, wrong, diminishing, less than. More seriously, a long-term effect can be that a person avoids pursuing or believing in him, her or their self because they have been made to think they are not capable.

There is a domino effect. Until we choose to change the story, not knowing is often perceived in a negative light than a positive one. An undercurrent of anxiousness or insecurity or other challenging feelings is often present. There is a palpable physical sensation that pops in immediately when we realize we don’t know.

The early years influence how we freely fly or not after we leave the walls of the classrooms or begin to wrestle with what has been presented as absolute truth from various sources.

When asked a question, especially in education settings where children spend huge portions of their lives, to say, “I don’t know” makes one want to shrink.

I look back at this picture of my First Grade official tables, remembering that it was the year that “knowing” started to feel important and serious. Life now went from my Kindergarten report card that talked about whether I played nicely and rested well to columns on the report card that were far more concerned with where I was in “knowing.” Report cards also made it seem that we were to know everything in every subject, but paid little attention to other ways of knowing and how we showed them.

I don’t think there was ever a time at any level when a fellow student, without pause, answered a teacher with, “I don’t know yet.” Or, “I don’t know and I am completely fine with that for now.” Or, “I don’t know but I’ll do some exploring.” What a courageous risk and model that would have been and would be!

Speaking from my own experiences when the teacher scanned the room deciding which one of us to call on, I often wanted to be invisible and went into an emergency prayer session asking whoever was listening to please not let me be the one where his or her eyes stopped. Enter fear, too.

We are taught so early that it is important to have the answers, to know them and be able to speak them or write them. We then  received the “rewards” for knowing.

Let me interject that we sometimes mix “not knowing” with “not recalling.” The knowing of a fact is buried somewhere and not able to be pulled up in a specific moment. It still feels like not knowing because we cannot find that correct answer when needed.

Even though in education there are initiatives that focus on creative thinking and problem solving, which imply exploration of not knowing, those are often listed as separate parts of the day. It is as if they are “extras” or “bonuses.”

When it comes to “moving up,” however, we still live in a system where “knowing” is what is prized most.

This is not to diminish that through learning we come to know important things, such as how to read. It is to say, though, that we miss a much bigger learning picture by teaching and practicing narrow interpretations and responses to knowing and not knowing that have lifelong impact.

I am going to leave it at this for this week.

This foundational piece has been a significant catalyst for me to muse about how my early years framed and perhaps even stunted what could have been an expansive, free internal response to not knowing.

I continue to dip into this well, letting go and letting go and letting go of the old confines, fears and insecurities as I find refreshing ways and more comfortable ways, even grateful ways, to be with that which I do not know, whether it is a fact I think I “should” or something much more abstract that is about life itself.

I offer this as an invitation to think of imprints in your own life that have perhaps limited your comfort level with being with what you don’t know and the impact of them. Do they still hold some sway and intrude, influencing current responses to not knowing? How? Or did you not experience the same as a child? Or perhaps in more balance?

a wellbalancechildhoodcommunicationcuriositynot knowingparentingpossibility
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