Why We All Need to Say “I Don’t Know” More Often

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Every day I look more and more like a fool after telling my 13-year-old Australian cousin, Aiden, that he shouldn’t buy Bitcoin back in October. At the time, the price was around $5,500 USD and it’s now more than $9,000 $11,200 $17,000 USD. While I’ve spent some time reading about cryptocurrencies and I certainly know more than he does, I have no idea what the hell is going on and have no business trying to predict Bitcoin’s future. What I should’ve told him is “I don’t know enough to give you advice on this.” And then I should’ve shown him how to do online research to formulate his own opinion.

Luckily the consequences of my actions are extremely minimal because he, like almost all 13-year-olds, isn’t throwing around large amounts of cash into investments. And the odds of his parents making a big Bitcoin bet because of their 13-year-old son’s recommendation is extremely unlikely.

We’re all guilty of voicing opinions on matters where we don’t know enough to be advising others. But the fear of not knowing something that we should or not upholding a particular image is frequently too great to just say “I don’t know.” I suppose because I established a rep, with my Australian relatives, as a startup and emerging technologies guy that I wanted to further that image. But I was wrong to do it.

This has recently become a big theme in my life because I’ve discovered that nowhere is this concept truer than in India, where I currently live. I’ve lived in about ten Asian countries this year, and while the English fluency rate in India seems to be higher than most other countries, I’ve had more communication issues here than anywhere else.

Before arriving, I read a blog post about “India’s rule of three” which suggested that if you’re lost, you should ask three people for directions before deciding which route to take. You then hope that at least two of the people point you in the same direction and you head off on your way. The reason for this “rule” is because people in India seem to have developed a reputation for always providing an answer, even when they don’t know.

And I’ve seen this scenario happen first hand in a local restaurant when trying to explain a food allergy. The server didn’t speak English very well and must have been too embarrassed to admit that he didn’t understand what I was saying. So he acted as if he understood me, nodded and then rang up my order. It could’ve been a bad situation if I hadn’t spotted his error before eating.

My takeaway from this theme is that we all (myself included) need to be more honest and that there’s no shame in admitting that “I don’t know.” Plus, if we say “I don’t know” more often then people will trust and value our opinions much more when we do speak up.

I've been building digital businesses, wandering the world, and writing about optimizing life for freedom since early 2017. My mission is to lower the barrier for people who want to live with more freedom: whether that be as an entrepreneur, a digital nomad, an early retiree, or just as someone who wants to live a happiness-driven life.