Embracing uncertainty can be scary, but admitting what you don’t know can be liberating. We live in a world where it pays to know things. There’s no doubt that knowledge can be powerful, but the need to know can lead us into a trap. Intuitively, we are driven to understand, and in a competitive world, knowledge is often the edge that gives us an advantage.

Getting comfortable with uncertainty requires a leap of faith. ‘Comfortable’ may not even be possible, because uncertainty should always have a tantalising tingle of anticipation that lets you know there are possibilities.

“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”

The Zen Studies Podcast

Certainty is a comfortable feeling, but when it becomes an automatic response it is risky, and threatening to harmony. Because we are generally uncomfortable with doubt and ambiguity, it can become a reflex to reduce uncertainty by claiming to know something even when we don’t.

This shows up most clearly when we work or live with someone who is ‘always right’. In extreme cases this sets up a tension in the relationship that becomes an obstruction to mutual respect and understanding.

Uncertainty is ‘not knowing’

Perhaps, as you read this, you are tempted to reject the uncertainty. After all, ‘knowledge is power’, isn’t it? Experts get paid more because they are experts. How can not knowing – or ignorance about something – be a virtue? After years of study in your chosen field, the idea of putting all your acquired understanding to one side might seem foolish. 

We are all capable of slipping into a mode where we express certainty about things we are not actually sure of. A subtle and unconscious drift that lures us into a habit of ‘knowing’, while simultaneously driving others away from complicity with us.

The antidote to this is to practice a simple phrase regularly and often. “I don’t know” has a liberating effect which is far greater than it’s simplicity suggests.