No More IDK
I had a counselor and coach who I started meeting with in 2002. He would ask me such difficult questions in our sessions together, usually along the lines of ‘why do you think that is?’ or ‘what do you think about that?’. My default answer was more often than not ‘I don’t know.’
One session together transpired as usual – him trying to get me to think and dig deeper and me trying to evade and play it safe. I guess being wrong is a deep fear of mine. This day I once again said ‘I don’t know’ to a question and he called a time-out. He told me I needed to stop using that phrase and that it no longer fit with who I was. I had matured past using it, he asserted, but was still depending on it. I needed to be more thoughtful – attempt an answer – add something to the conversation – anything would be better than another ‘I don’t know’.
I realize now that he was asking me to grow in my ability to think critically and then to practice articulating it. He was not looking for the perfect answer; he was looking for my growth. He understood that my quality of life was dependent on my ability to think more critically. I should not remain at the ‘unreflective thinker’ phase and he began to push me to the ‘challenged thinker’ phase. I am grateful for the push.
I see that thinking critically is not imperative just for this program we are in but it is essential for a good life. Elder asserts that ‘Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.’
Quality of thought must be cultivated by intentionality. We do not slide into it or simply evolve in to right and healthy thinking. It is hard work. It is much harder than saying IDK (short-hand for ‘I don’t know’).
It’s interesting as I reflect on critical thinking this week to be introduced to James K. A. Smith. I agree with Smith that humans are not merely brains on a stick or primarily a container for ideas. His assertion is that we are what we love.He does not say that our thoughts do not matter for surely, they undergird and either improve or degenerate what we love and therefore, what we are. And if we are primarily what we love then what we think about what we love is crucial. Perhaps if we follow Smith’s line of thinking, humans are what we love primarily and most naturally and then the subsequent work should be to intentionally enhance and improve our thoughts around what we love.
In order to love God with all our heart, soul and mind we must pay attention to our what we think about God. Love and thinking are interrelated. A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holyimpacted me deeply a number of years ago. It gave me another push in critical thinking development and this idea that what we love and what we think about what we love are inextricably linked. He claims that ‘What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…for this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself…we tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.’
I am determined to keep doing the hard work of critical thinking and not settling for safe IDKs as often. I am not asserting that we should do away with ‘IDK’ altogether. I have often taught and been taught in pastoral care trainings how useful ‘I don’t know’ can be. Surely an honest, soft ‘I don’t know’ is more soothing in a crisis than pretending we actually do know why something has happened. Also, ‘IDK and I am going to find out what I think about that’ is much different than a lazy, fear-based IDK.
As I push on in the stages of critical thinking development, I am committing to the following: practice more with those around me; use IDK only when appropriate; pay attention to what I am paying attention to; and make progress rather than perfection the primary goal in this endeavor.
Richard Paul Elder and Linda Elder, Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, 7th ed., Thinker’s Guide Library (Amazon Digital Services : Kindle Edition, 2014), Location 245.
Ibid. Loc 29
Smith, James K. A. “Defined by Our Loves: A Liturgical Anthropology.” 11th March 2013. Accessed 23rd October 2018. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixKR7duSamU.
Tozer, A. W. Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God. Faithful Life Publishers, 2014.
12 responses to “No More IDK”
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I really appreciate this post Andrea. I think it is so healthy to dealve into why we don’t know if that is genuinely the answer. For me, if I’ve answered that a number of times in a row, I have to reflect a little on my self-care. I’ve found that the IDK answer comes from a place of exhaustion or feeling overwhelmed because knowing requires energy and space for considering ideas.
I have also seen both the benefit and pitfall of this answer in pastoral care. I do feel like it has value and integrity when we really don’t have an answer. However, when I was in high school and a friend died in a devastating car accident, another friend who was wrestling with her faith already asked the pastor “Why would God let this happen?” His answer of “I don’t know” has kept her from coming back to Christianity. As her friend and a Christian it took me a long time to forgive the pastor from ‘dropping the ball’ as I saw it. As a pastor now, I have more compassion but also work hard to offer hope in those circumstances. I tend to look for an opportunity to start with I don’t know, but can I tell you about something I do know? I suppose this is one of my approaches to critical thinking. I may not have an answer but examine things I do know related to the question to inform the answer I’m seeking. How do you think we might draw out better answers from those who respond to us with “I don’t know?”
I appreciate your pastor’s perspective, Jenn. And love the language of IDK why this happened but carefully offering a few things we do know. Beautiful and helpful.
Andrea, you should re-read Bayard’s How to Talk about Books You’ve Never Read. Remember his discussion about our inner libraries? I mentioned it to my wife, Jane, the other day, and she quipped that I should write a book titled, “How to talk about stuff you know nothing about”, “you’re an expert”, she said. My daughter agreed. However, despite the mocking comments from my loved ones, I believe there is truth in it. Our learning, experience, education and reading over time, means we know more than we give ourselves credit. Sometimes, taking a stab at something, even if it’s wrong, opens up a conversation or discussion that leads to ways of understanding that might never have occurred. If you can’t bring yourself to total bluffing, rather than IDK, how about, “I’m not entirely certain, but I think…….”
First, your wife sounds awesome. Second, I almost mentioned the ‘inner library’ in my post because I think it gives handles to what I’m trying to communicate. I will add that to my list of commitments – I will trust my ‘inner library’ more. And I think your language is helpful and I plan to adopt it and begin to use it – I’m not entirely certain but I think…
Thank you for bringing it up and being interested in my life. You rock.
Thanks, Andrea. For me, there is an important time to use “I don’t know” and that is when someone asks about a mystery of God that is better left unexplained. I said during my message Sunday, “I don’t know” is a wonderful admission that God is beyond my comprehension and explanation. My point was, I don’t want to worship a God I can fully comprehend and explain as that limits him to the size of my mind.
That said, using “I don’t know” as you described was a great thing for a coach to call you out on and what more of us need. There are various reasons some of us do not think critically and sometimes it is from false beliefs, fears and insecurities, as well as just being lazy.
Great action points in your conclusion!
Tammy – yes! I love the way you recently used IDK in a message. So wise and encouraging to our faith. It is not just intellectual humility but good theology and I am sure it ministered to those that heard it. Thank you for sharing.
Andrea, IDK is a common cry of the youth when they do not want to engage. Most times when a youth says this to a question, I just let it go. I think what your coach did is an important lesson in helping young people think critically. I will further probe when I get this response from now on. It may not get full engagement, but at least maybe I can communicate with the youth that your thoughts and ideas matter, and I want to hear them!
Amen, Mary. I think it communicates such value to others when we carefully press for more. Of course this is most effective when we have relationship with the other person we want to hear more from – but just your interest in them is ministry and fosters connection, whether you get a deep answer from them or not. Love your pastor’s heart!
I am so glad you found working with your counselor and coach, while hard work, was also taking your thinking to places you could not get to on your own. I find Critical Thinking to not be as focused on “good” thoughts as on “good” thought processes. While your have found IDK to be a default that perhaps you have hid behind in times past, I think about Dr. Jason Clarke’s admonition to us to initiate our outward thought processes with, “I wonder…” I commend you to continue the hard work of developing and practicing your critical thinking processes. When you get stuck, continue to work with your coach. Blessings, H
Harry, I love that you brought up ‘I wonder’ from our time in HK. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought of it. It makes me think of Elder’s section on intellectual humility – this seems like good language to cultivate to that end. Thank you for the encouragement!
There’s a phrase at our house that is said more often than I like and it’s “I don’t know is not an answer”. It’s spoken by my wife and I nearly every time our kids say “I don’t know” (thankfully they don’t speak to us in initials yet). In the case of our kids it’s generally true that IDK is not an answer, but in the back of my mind there’s always a bit of a cringe in that sometimes it is an answer – and an honest good one at that. In the coming years our kids will start asking us questions where IDK will be the answer. I hope by then I’ll be able to articulate the difference. This post helped. Thanks.
Sean – what beautiful discipleship this is with your kids! I am encouraged by your thoughtfulness on this subject and your willingness to hold the tension. I am grateful that we parent WITH God and that He will help us as we go. Blessings friend.