I’ve never been quite sure if the thought “You don’t know what you don’t know” is a ridiculously simple observation or a profoundly wise insight. I guess it’s a little of both. Obviously, …
I’ve never been quite sure if the thought “You don’t know what you don’t know” is a ridiculously simple observation or a profoundly wise insight. I guess it’s a little of both. Obviously, we don’t know what we don’t know, but what we don’t know can have profound implications for the quality and direction of our lives. Several examples come to mind.
1. A husband and wife spend an entire life together and really never get to truly know one another. For a variety of reasons due to lack of trust, fear of intimacy, feeling conditionally loved, or multitude of other insecurities, the couple fails to take the necessary risks to know the profound joys of connection. Issues, arguments, and conflicts become the norm, and, eventually, the expectation. Looking around, they feel justified in assuming that this is just the way marriage is. The wedding day fantasies are just that, nothing more than fantasies. What they don’t know are the immeasurable joys that come from couples who do truly connect, who experience true intimacy, who are truly loved for whom they are. You don’t know what you don’t know.
2. A father and mother believe that the only way to raise a child is through intimidation and control. The child grows to understand that in this house, “under my roof,” there are clear expectations that are nonnegotiable. It’s “my way or the highway” and when push comes to shove the child knows that there are really only two options – to comply or rebel. This is a two-choice dilemma as compliance over time will result in the child losing his sense of self and the choice of rebellion only increase turmoil in the home. This family lives with power struggles, fear, tension, arguments, and fighting. Unhappiness becomes the expected norm. What they don’t know is the power of good relationships, the influence of appropriate modeling, the joy and laughter that permeate homes where connection and respect are the norms. You don’t know what you don’t know.
3. The individual who is threatened by new thoughts and ideas, by people who choose to live life differently, by religious differences, by those outside his culture, by others of a different race, by opposing political ideologies. Maintaining a narrow-minded focus concerning what is acceptable and what is not acceptable results in the loss of appreciation for difference. What such individuals don’t know is that appreciation for life is directly related to our appreciation of difference. Even when it comes to people, variety is the spice of life. You don’t know what you don’t know.
4. The chronically ill individuals who go from one sickness to another. Feeling bad becomes the norm. Going for a walk, riding a bicycle, working in a garden, playing a set of tennis, exercising at the gym, all activities seem outside the realm of possibilities. Eating junk food, popping pills to feel better, smoking one cigarette after another, carrying weight that restricts one’s lifestyle, become the norm. Feeling bad becomes the expected norm. What chronically ill individuals never know is the fun that life can be. Feeling good most days is most often (not always) the result of making good choices concerning the care of our bodies. With good choices we are much more likely to become chronically healthy. You don’t know what you don’t know.
There is, of course, much more individuals don’t know. There is much I don’t know. What makes the difference in the quality of our lives is our willingness to thoughtfully look at what we do not know – and seek with all the power we can muster to know.
Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.
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