Wednesday, December 30, 2015

1584 Three Little Words

1584 Three Little Words

No, not “I love you.” Not “Go to Hades.” Not even “Stop the music.”  These three little words are “I don’t know.”

How refreshing this kind of conversation would be:

Bob Schieffer: Sir, in hindsight, what could you have done differently about the rise of the Soviet Union?
Franklin D. Roosevelt: I don’t know, Bob. I just don’t know.”


Wife:  Why can’t you remember to turn the garage lights out when you’re finished in there?
Husband:  I don’t know.

No one likes to hear those three little words.

The other day someone wrote an advice column about things to not say in a workplace.  Top of the list? “I don’t know.”

What?  All of a sudden we’re all supposed to be know-it-alls?

Sometimes I don’t know is a good answer.  If a stranger asks directions and you don’t know, you tell him and he finds someone else to ask.  Public service on the ground. (Or you can play a joke: send the questioner in the wrong direction.)

Saying you don’t know makes you feel stupid.  Even if the question is stupid.  Albert Einstein asks the stranger on line ahead of him at McDonald’s “What is the cubic root of 17?”  (The answer is just over 2.57, in case you’re curious.) Even if you know the answer, what good is it?

Feeling stupid about a question like that is defeatist. This points out the difference between “stupid” and “ignorant.”  Ignorance is curable.  Or at least treatable.

But some people are reluctant to say those three little words because they fear being thought of as a dummy.

Sometimes you can avoid this problem. Here’s an example.
Guy on a train platform: “What time’s the last train to Clarksville?”  Other guy on a train platform: “I don’t know, but I have a schedule, let’s look it up.”

Many of us don’t carry train schedules or “Best of the Monkees” song books, though either might come in handy.  

If you don’t know the answer -- whatever the question -- say so.  You may look like a dope.  But you’re being honest and at least indirectly helpful.  Not as helpful as having and giving the answer. But helpful nonetheless.

And for those of you who won’t take “I don’t know” for an answer, something should be done about you.  What?

I don’t know.


--Lessons from Trump. Like a small New England or West Virginia mining town, Japan says it won’t admit refugees from Syria.  “No big wave of foreigners here,” they say “we don’t have the room.”  

--We don’t hear much about what may be the most important decision the next president will have to make, picking a nominee  for associate justice of the US Supreme Court.  Clinton or Sanders will give us the other Clinton or Obama or someone like them. But who would a President Trump or a President Huckabee pick?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to

© WJR 2015

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