“I don’t know, let me find out”: learn this phrase. Use it.

I’ve hit the end of my tether with this fucking election. It’s driving me right up the wall, daily doses of bullshit. Today, it’s one politician making what the Jolyons treat as the worst boo-boo ever. Tomorrow, it’ll be another.

The boo-boo in question is not knowing some numbers off the top of your head, as though politics were no more than an end-of-the-pier mentalism show. The politician–who will always be The Absolute Worst, unless they are a shiny member of the pigfucking class and therefore more palatable to news outlet owners–will generally respond in one of two ways. They will give a wrong figure, presented with confidence, which is Bad. Or they will admit that they do not know off the top of their head. This is Worse.

The latter is Worse because it does not fit in with macho politics, which, of course, reflects some of the worst trappings of masculinity. The phenomenon is related to mansplaining, blurting out any old guff without any expertise, yet with all the confidence in the world. To say “I don’t know, let me find out,” is to back down, admit weakness.

For myself, it was a difficult journey getting myself in the position where I could admit that I was not a computer, able to immediately spit out the right data on request. As a woman in STEM, it’s one of the worst things you can say (despite the entirety of science being built on identifying what we don’t know, and finding out!). As a girl surrounded by boys, you’re considered a thick bimbo. In schools, your teachers will tut when you’re put on the spot and can’t perform. It’s an age-old valued skill, and I suspect it dates back to antiquity, the orators droning things out from their head.

But it’s a bullshit skill, demonstrating only your ability to be spoonfed and regurgitate. It smacks of public school, the political and media class being steeped in its values.

“I don’t know, let me check” is a beautiful phrase. It is honest, and you emerge smarter from the act of checking. You have learned something that you didn’t know. You have proved yourself aware of the limits of your knowledge, and willing to grow, in a very slight way.

I have more respect, any day, for someone who can do this.

The transition from awkward to liberated, for me, was a little slow, but I forced myself to keep saying “I don’t know, let me find out”, when I didn’t know and needed to find out. People would look at me like I was stupid, but you know what? I emerge knowing a little bit more, every time I check. And I realised just how little that others are growing.

I want to see more value placed on self-awareness and willingness to learn, replacing the value placed on false confidence and spurting bollocks. I want to see a sign of weakness turned into a sign of strength: someone who will grow rather than stagnate.

And yet I feel, in the macho shitshow that is the world, this is likely doomed to fail. But I don’t know that for sure–and I’d like to find out by trying.

 

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2 responses to ““I don’t know, let me find out”: learn this phrase. Use it.

  • Alasdair

    Funny thing here is, a lot of MPs are ex-lawyers. But when I was at law school, we were told that ‘I don’t know, let me check’ is a perfectly acceptable thing to say in court, and far, far better than trying to bullshit a judge. Better to know the answers in advance, of course; but no one can be expected to know everything. The standard expected by the media of politicians is absurd; no wonder most of them turn into robotic spin machines.

  • Onsomu

    Wow..amazing message and spectacular choice of words…

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