On Life and Love

I don’t know

It’s become a big thing in to be willing to admit when you don’t know something. It’s a prideful shelving of arrogance and blustering to just stop and say, “I don’t know.” No bullshit. I like that.

But I’m growing weary of the first response to a serious question being “I don’t know.” In the middle of a serious, truth-seeking conversation about life, people, and what makes things (or people) tick, nothing stops me and my curiosity more joltingly than someone answering quickly, without thought, “I don’t know.” … and then saying nothing more.

I’ve become guilty of doing it. Usually, I’m buying time while I come up with a better answer, a more thought-out one. Rarely, I’m brushing people off.

There are better ways to do both of those, more considerate ways. A simple, contemplative “hmm” and a shift in body language takes care of the first. Telling people I don’t have the time or inclination to get into details takes care of the second.

But what’s the best way to react to that from other people? It strikes me as one of those responses that suggests that the person on the other end isn’t really interested in the conversation. Either that, or they aren’t interested in the introspection the question may require.

Either way, I can’t really man-handle people into interest or introspection (although the image that brings to mind makes me giggle). Maybe I should pull out the dweeby assertiveness training lines my father taught me. “Hmm. You seem not to be interested in this line of conversation. Is there something else you’d rather talk about?” (Or, being even more assertive, replace the question with, “Let me know when there’s something you’d like to talk to me about that has some depth.”) That’s a line that works well in all sorts of situations, like when someone is working on their computer while trying to hold down a conversation with you. If they aren’t interested enough to give you some attention, is the conversation really worthwhile? (Barring — for me, at least — small things like, “Sweetie, should I get 2% or skim milk from the store?”)

WO’s complaint about assertive responses was always that it made the assertive person come across as an asshole. Only in my most scared moments has that ever been much of a deterrent for me. Not that I haven’t had plenty of those, mind you. Too damned many.

Regardless, maybe it all comes down to a control issue. I don’t like someone else being able to control the bounds of what my curiosity can help me find out… even when that does in fact involve someone else.

Oi. Didn’t I go to counselling for this already? I’m pretty sure I did.


  • A

    I’m usually ready at the drop of a hat to talk about the ‘important’ questions, but people don’t seem to try too hard anymore – not like when I was a kid. Man, people had all kinds of wisdom then (couldn’t shut ’em up…)

    Now I’m leaning ever closer to poking and studying people instead of interviewing them. Got any good advice how to draw people out without offense? Or is that the problem – certainly a tricky thing people are.

  • Lissa

    A: I’m with you. I think part of the problem is that by the time we reach our age, a lot of people think they have themselves figured out, or they’ve given up trying. Maybe I’m wrong, but I find myself much less curious and interested in the world around me when I can’t muster up interest in and curiosity about myself.

    As far as drawing people out… I don’t know. Most people respond well to friendly curiousity, which I know you exude most of the time. 🙂 For the rest… I’m as stuck as you are.