“Wisdom is knowing what you don't know.”
“He doesn't know what he doesn't know” is a phrase that I have used to describe more than one person. It often confuses the person I am talking to. The person who I am conversing with will usually ask me “Well, isn't that the problem with everyone, that there are things we don’t know?”. Correct, that is a problem, people should never stop learning, they should always be looking for ways to expand their knowledge, but that is not what I am referring to. I use the phrase to refer to people who think they know something, when in reality they are completely ignorant on the subject. Let me illustrate what people initially think I mean, and what I actually mean, using the following example.
Example of what people think I mean: Boy is drowning, witness sees him drowning, but witness doesn’t know how to swim. So the issue is the lack of knowing how to swim.
The above example is not what I am referring to.
Example of what I actually mean: Boy is drowning, witness sees him drowning, but doesn’t know how to swim. Witness doesn’t recognize that he doesn’t know how to swim, and therefore jumps into the water. Now there are two people who require rescuing.
There is no one who knows everything. There is plenty that each and every one of us needs to learn. But what are we doing in the interim? Are we trying to fool ourselves? Fool others? Or do we have the knowledge and the humility to admit that we don’t know?
When I lecture on this subject, it is at this point that I stop generalizing, and start getting into specifics. When I speak with doctors, the goal becomes for the doctor to realize at which point they are no longer able to help the patient, and need to refer the patient to a specialist. The doctor needs to take a long term view here. If they don’t refer to a different doctor, the patient will eventually choose a different doctor, whereas by referring to a specialist, the patient is more likely to return when they need medical attention for other ailments.
This idea of “knowing what you don’t know” is also very important in parenting. Do you, the parent, know how to handle the issue of your child being bullied? Do you even have a concept of what cyber-bullying is, and the types of harm it causes? How about the reverse? What if you find out your child is being a bully? Do you know how to check to see if your intervention is successful? Do you realize that the intervention that worked for an older child might not be right for your younger child, or do you believe that one size fits all when it comes to your children? Are you prepared to recognize that there are issues that you might not be able to assist your child with? If so, what do you do?
Parenting can be extremely difficult and challenging. When our children were born, they didn’t come with an operating manual. There is no “tech support” hotline that has all the answers for each individual child. What worked for one child might not work for another child. What worked for this child two years ago might not work for this child now. As soon as we know what we don’t know, we have taken the step into the right direction. We acknowledge that at the present time we are incapable of handling this issue. Perhaps we need to learn more to better equip ourselves. Perhaps the advice of someone we respect can enlighten us to a different technique, one we never would have thought of. Perhaps we will require someone else intervene, whether a family member that the child trusts, or perhaps a mental health professional.
The issue isn’t that the parent doesn't know. There is plenty that we all don’t know. The issue is when the parent thinks they are helping the child when in fact they aren’t. Our children are our most precious resource. Let’s not harm them because we are allowing our egos to blind us from the fact that there are things that we don’t know.
I’d like to conclude with one final comment. For this article, I switched my writing style. I decided to use terms like our, we, and us. The reason for this is simple. I am also writing this message for myself. This is not a message that one can hear once and remember. This is a message that needs to be internalized. A message that needs to be on a front burner, not a back burner. Recognize what you don’t know, accept that you don’t know. Find another way to assist your child despite your not knowing. Don’t give up because you don’t know. Don’t keep trying the only methods you know, just because they are the only methods that you know. We try to teach our children that it is okay to ask for help. We need to remember as parents, it is still okay to ask for help.
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages who are looking to improve their awareness and their social skills. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety. You can email Yisroel at YMPicker@gmail.com