Commentary: The Wise Know What They Don’t Know

By Linda Hart Green

I don’t like to admit I was a know-it-all in school. I wore thick glasses and sat in the front and always raised my hand. My teachers would say, “Linda, we need to give someone else a chance to answer.”

I did well academically and sought approval that way. What I really did was cram my head full of information for the tests and regurgitate it onto the page. Wisdom and knowledge are much harder to come by.

My younger brother hated the expectations that came with following me five years later. The teachers would say, “YOU’RE Linda’s brother?” It made him cringe. The truth was, he was much more well-rounded. He was smart, athletic and easygoing. I was one for three.

It is comforting to think you know it all. It allows you to glide through the world with a sense of assurance. Issues are clearly delineated. The moral high ground is clear and straightforward.

But the older I get, the more I know what I don’t know. Vistas widened. Issues reveal levels of complexity. I was surprised and enlightened when a 50-year veteran correspondent of the Middle East said recently of the current war, “I just don’t get it.” Even the brightest and most experienced ones do not see a clear path forward.

Here are a few things I do know:

I visited Israel, Jordan and Palestine 12 years ago with a tour group weighted heavily with clergy types like myself. Our guide was a biblical archaeologist and geologist who had lived and studied in Israel for 40 years.

I learned that you can stick a shovel in the ground anywhere over there and hit layers of civilizations. I learned that this slice of land along the Mediterranean connecting continents has been traversed and fought over for millennia. I learned that while cultures sit side by side, that doesn’t mean they understand each other. I learned that the world’s three monotheistic religions claim the same holy ground and continue to fight over it. They all teach love for their neighbor but don’t practice it. They all condemn violence, but practice that too.

I heard the call to prayer blast from speakers from mosques that once were churches. I saw the utter devotion of pilgrims who had traveled far to walk the Via Dolorosa. I waited in a single file line edged with barbed wire to go through the checkpoint into Palestine. I was aware of my privilege that allowed me to walk freely back the other way, later that day.

One could think of the apostle Paul of the Christian scriptures as a know-it-all. He was transformed by his conversion experience and had a lot to say about it. But then we read an astonishing admission of humility in his correspondence with the church in Corinth. 1 Corinthians 13:12, reads, “For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (New Revised Standard Version)

We are not big on the virtue of humility in our culture. Being humble is often equated with being self-effacing. Humility is equated with weakness. Goodness knows, we want none of that. False humility is readily apparent and does not win friends.

I wish I had some deeper wisdom that could lift us out of the mire of worry and the fear of chaos that swarms about on all levels of our society, in the world at large and right here at home. I can suggest that you realize you don’t know it all. I thought I had all the answers when I was a good student. Life has taught me otherwise. Knowing you don’t know is its own kind of freedom. I ask that in these difficult times, we give humility a try, a try to be gentle with each other.

The verse that comes after the one I already quoted is widely known. It offers comfort and a blessing to all, penned by know-it-all Paul, “And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.”

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Noble Member
7 months ago

You finally wrote something I can agree with. Thank you. And peace be with you.

Active Member
7 months ago

So much food for thought!… and knowing you don’t know opens one up to hearing and seeing endless possibilities …

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
7 months ago

No one knows everything and those who think they do know less than those who realize they don’t. Thanks for this..I always enjoy your posts.

Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
7 months ago

A timely piece, for sure. Another problem is people who know they don’t know, but don’t bother to find out. Despite some peoples’ claims that everything in the media is fake news, there are some very reliable sources. At the very least, somebody should check out sources of different slants to get a better angle on the news.

Active Member
7 months ago

During the 1980-81 timeframe while living in France I read the International Herald Tribune published by the NYT, the WP, and Whitney Communications. The Sinai was being fought over then and the coverage included Palestinian sources awa Israeli. Having followed this in the US newspapers prior to and afterwards, I had the revelation of the power of media coverage and the slant they provide can move mountains swaying public opinion. When you think you’re getting “truth” from your news source, in fact someone has editorialized/propagandized the message. This leads to the divisiveness seen in this country as alternate “truths” are put forward. None greater than the Covid debacle, Ukraine, and the Middle East conflicts. Keep an open mind to new information, you don’t know all the details.

Active Member
7 months ago

I was fortunate enough to visit the Holy Land in 2009. Like you I learned of the conflicts, even among the Christian sects, and was amazed that so many people could be blind to their religious obligations of peace and love. I don’t believe there will be peace until Jesus Christ walks again!

Bill Fold
Noble Member
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
7 months ago

“Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” -Against The Wind