"I don't know!"
I wonder how many times you have been asked a question and really did not know how to respond? As someone who works with the bereaved every week of the year, I have learnt the power, importance and significance of simply saying "I don't know".
If I am to be honest with you though, it is often much easier said than done – especially given that I work in a field that begs for answers… (not just from the bereaved themselves but also from humanity in general). It is a part of life that has people constantly searching (searching for what, sometimes they don’t even know) and albeit a privilege to enter into a person’s world of loss, the weight of answering these questions frequently falls on me.
As someone too, who wants to always offer wisdom, encouragement and assistance to people who need a little support and direction, the thought of not offering an answer can cause some level of anxiety. Over time however, I have discovered that simply saying "I don't know" has never caused more grief or pain to anyone. On the contrary, it has often freed them, because having the strength to say “I don’t know” shows your humanity and takes humility and vulnerability; a place the bereaved are all too familiar with. To be franc, I have found that those who hurriedly fill the silence and offer ‘poor answers’, can often do more damage than those who simply offer their honesty.
The other consideration here, is that perhaps the question(s) doesn't need answering or that the person asking for the answer is not really wanting our input – but is simply voicing and processing what is going on internally?
Recently I received an email through firstname.lastname@example.org, where a young lady spoke of her journey of dying as she is in what seems to be her last weeks of life. She spoke of her family, her children, friends and a whole lot more. The email had lots of questions in it, many of which I did not attempt to answer and some which I simply said “I don’t know”. I am pleased to say that she felt incredibly encouraged from our interaction and noted that it had “helped her so much”.
Pondering her email a few days later, I asked myself what would have happened if I had have answered all of her questions? Would I have felt pride and fulfillment for doing my job well? I came to the conclusion that in situations such as the above, it can easily become more about our own needs than about the other person and their needs, if we’re not careful. I boldly ask this same question of you… Have you been in situations where you have answered questions with void responses simply because you felt as though you had to?
On several occasions throughout my life I have engaged the professional services of a counsellor, life coach and psychologist (separately of one-another J) and what I discovered, is that all three led me to a place of answering my own questions. They were masterful at digging deeper, redirecting the discussion and leading me to a place of discovery and self realization about myself and my situations. It was I who had answered my own questions and was awakened as a result. Sure, I was able to ask them lots of things in return, but ultimately I was responsible for the eventual outcomes, and I am glad I was, for it was incredibly empowering.
Let’s empower those around us by having the strength to simply say “I don’t know”, and let us be those that love, encourage and support without have to be the ones with “all the answers”.
By Steve Morrison