Thursday, December 14, 2017

I Have No Clue

September 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured Posts, Free and Laughing, Observe

keep calm and have no clueA few years ago, I decided to speak at MoMondays, a very popular event in Toronto and other cities in Canada and the USA. Michel, the organizer gave me a date and then asked for my topic. “I have no clue what I am going to speak about,” I told him. Somehow I found a topic just in time to pour salve on his stress level. What I didn’t tell him was that I really did have no clue until the morning of the talk. Then my own panic set in and somehow I did it. From then I promised myself that one day I would explore admitting cluelessness.

My story starts one evening some years ago in Jamaica. My daughter Victoria and I were seated at the dining table, she doing her homework and I reading.

“Mummy, can you help me with my Math homework?” she pleaded.

Slowly, thoughtfully, I swivelled her book to face me, reading and rereading the exercise, dredging my dusty brain for any semblance of knowledge about how to solve Math problems. Like decades ago when I was in school, no answers were forthcoming, so I responded:
“I have no clue, Victoria.”
To which she replied:
“But Mummy, I don’t understand how you went to Harvard but can’t do Math.”

And that was the moment when my daughter’s perception and belief in her mother as all-knowing, wise and infallible, started to unravel. It was also my moment to accelerate my own journey of knowing that I know not and further, of admitting that I don’t have a clue – at least some of the time.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. From the moment we are born we are gathering knowledge about our own little world and the world of others. It is valued in our society – those with the most, or perceived to have the most, knowledge are venerated. Hence the power of priests, rulers and the intelligentsia. Just think: those are the people who are first targeted and disposed of when despots seek power. There’s a reason for that. Knowledge is power. Want to seize power? Get rid of those with knowledge.

Victoria was only 9 when she made her exasperated observation. At the time, I was well established in Jamaica as a management consultant, i.e. one who knows a lot about business and could tell others some very smart things. But I realized that as much as I already knew, there was so much more that I did not know. I don’t know if the pool of knowledge is infinite; I believe it is, for the longer I live the more I realize how little I know. And further, how little even the brightest minds – Socrates, Plato, Einstein, Hawking – know. If they don’t have a clue, then who am I?

Now it’s one thing to know something deep in your heart, and another to admit it to others. It feels uncomfortable, doesn’t it? To me it smacks of lack of integrity. There is so much to know that we cannot possibly know everything. Admitting this does two things: it connects with others on the basis of equality – we are equal ignororamuses on this journey of life – and it opens us to find out more. If we believe that we know, then why bother to explore?

Setting yourself up as one who knows, i.e. an expert, as we all like to call ourselves, also creates separation and hierarchy. I know something you don’t know, so I am smarter, wiser, better than you. In my love-based view of the world, or at least the view that I aspire to, that didn’t fit so well.

What started to feel right for me was, “I don’t know but I will find out”. That helped, but it still placed the onus of attaining knowledge on me.

Gradually, I moved to “I don’t know, but together let’s find out” – which is how I switched from being a consultant to a facilitator. This approach opened collaboration, equity and partnership and I started to feel a lot more comfortable.

Now I am at the stage where I am comfortable declaring, “I don’t know” or even, “I have no clue” with joy and abandon. And this brought real value to my life in these 4 ways:

  1. It keeps me present. When I say, “I know”, I am deeply in the past, for I am basing this assertion on the experiences and knowledge I have gained previous to this moment. When I say, “I don’t know” or, “I don’t have a clue”, I have broken my dependence on the past, and am present. At this moment, I really have no clue. And this leaves me free to choose to have a clue and to choose which clue to have. Freedom!
  2. Secondly, admitting that I don’t know allows me to be curious. Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert mind there are few.” When I release my expert mind, I am free to explore in any way I want, removed from the box of “I know”. This weekend, for example, I explored the leadership lessons from this summer’s hit song “Cheerleader”. “HUH? There are lessons for leaders in that romantic reggae ditty? I had no clue!” Neither did I, until I became curious and found about out the 7 years of perseverance in pursuit of his vision that Omi, the singer, took to make this tune a hit.
  3. Would you believe that my cluelessness is a great stress reliever? I know that I don’t know and I no longer have the pressure of proving that I am THE expert. I simply share the things I do know, and explore the things I don’t. Admitting that I have no clue allows me to let go of attachment to what I know. But most of all, it allows me to let go of attachment to my ego.
  4. And lastly, I can really help others to develop and grow and not be dependent on me. My children, now adults, have developed into curious, questioning beings not rote regurgitators of facts to make them look like they know. Now, on the few occasions when they still think I should know, I might say, “I don’t know – Google it.” (Because of course Google knows everything).

At the end of every interview Oprah asks her interviewee, “What do you know for sure?” I am always fascinated by the responses that reveal insight and deep wisdom. And I inevitably wonder what I will answer when Oprah interviews me and asks, “Marguerite. What do you know for sure?” I finally know my answer:

“That I have no clue, Oprah.”


5 Responses to “I Have No Clue”
  1. Eve says:

    Thoughtful article Marguerite! I’ve always happily told people that I don’t know when I really don’t know. Knowledge is infinite because every day is another opportunity to learn. I believe if you stop learning you have stopped growing. I’m flattered when people look to me for answers because it gives me a chance to explore where I would not have thought to go so with each “exploration” I grow even more.

    No one will ever know it all and anyone who thinks they know it all will find out sooner or later that they are as wrong as two left feet! What I do know is that I am always open to learning because I just LOVE to learn!

  2. Marguerite Once again so very well stated.
    I know I don’t know is so freeing.

    ignororamuses is a favourite word. On occasion was used by a relative to describe those in high places with less than acceptable manners. As a 12 year to hear it and learn it felt like I’d been admitted to a special club.

  3. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thanks Eve. I agree with you – I love to learn too. Once we think we know, then we shut off learning.



  4. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thanks Michael – yes, love that word too. It’s quite funny!



  5. Marguerite Orane says:

    From Marva:

    “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool shun him.

    He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a wise man seek him.”