I know this is going to be hard for you to believe, but I don’t know everything there is to know. Please don’t be dismayed; it took me a long time to accept that, too.
When I was 18, I was sure I knew it all. At 25, I was starting to realize that there was just the slightest possibility that there might be a few things that I didn’t know. When I hit 45, I was willing to admit there were some things I wasn’t so sure about anymore. On my 60th birthday, I finally accepted — although not publicly — that, yes, I was ignorant about a few things. And now that I am more than a few years beyond my 60th, here I am publicly admitting it: I don’t know everything.
Not only that, but I have another confession: Not everything is black and white anymore. It sure was easier when it was like that. It was so much easier to decide which way to vote, whose opinion was right or wrong, whose taste was the right one, whether a particular modern art painting was good or bad, and which was the best automobile to own. The list goes on.
Now everything is some shade of gray. I find that as my wisdom decreases, I am a lot less sure about a lot of things. I am uncomfortable to find that it is now easier for me to see the other side of an issue that was so clearly one-sided before. That leaves me confused, indecisive and uncertain.
No matter how many newspapers and news magazines I read, I still don’t know whom to vote for anymore. I find myself writing nasty opposite opinions in the margins of many of the books that I read. I find myself writing more letters to the editor. I find myself arguing a lot more — even while I’m less certain about my position.
But the good news is this: The older I get, the easier it is for me to say, “I don’t know.” To be a little cynical, those three words are harder for a man to say than “I love you.” In the corporate world, saying “I don’t know” is tantamount to admitting incompetence. It was simply never done in any of the larger companies where I worked.
I remember sitting in a very large conference room at Disney, and when I replied, “I don’t know,” every head in the room jerked up as if I had said, “I hate Disney movies.” (Of course, I hastily added, “But I’ll get back to you within the next two days.”)
I think that most men are reluctant to ask for directions for two reasons. The first is that they are reluctant to admit that they don’t know something, and the second reason is that they also know that the guy giving them the directions probably doesn’t know either. They also know that rather than admit it, he will give some vague — and probably incorrect — directions. It’s a guy thing, I guess.
— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at email@example.com.