I don't know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't)

( 5 )

Overview

A short, concise book in favor of honoring doubt and admitting when the answer is: I don’t know.

In a tight, enlightening narrative, Leah Hager Cohen explores why, so often, we attempt to hide our ignorance, and why, in so many different areas, we would be better off coming clean. Weaving entertaining, anecdotal reporting with eye-opening research, she considers both the ramifications of and alternatives to this ubiquitous habit in arenas as varied as education, finance, ...

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I don't know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't)

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Overview

A short, concise book in favor of honoring doubt and admitting when the answer is: I don’t know.

In a tight, enlightening narrative, Leah Hager Cohen explores why, so often, we attempt to hide our ignorance, and why, in so many different areas, we would be better off coming clean. Weaving entertaining, anecdotal reporting with eye-opening research, she considers both the ramifications of and alternatives to this ubiquitous habit in arenas as varied as education, finance, medicine, politics, warfare, trial courts, and climate change. But it’s more than just encouraging readers to confess their ignorance—Cohen proposes that we have much to gain by embracing uncertainty. Three little words can in fact liberate and empower, and increase the possibilities for true communication. So much becomes possible when we honor doubt.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/02/2013
In her latest endeavor, Cohen (Without Apology) dissects the nervousness that surrounds not knowing. She does so in an even, understanding tone that eschews the very "incomprehensibly pretentious muddles" she associates with worries of not appearing knowledgeable enough. Pulling from examples as diverse as a marriage gone sour and Pararescue Jumpers' moment of decision, Cohen hones in on the natural fear of making the wrong choice when perfect comprehension of the future is unattainable. She goes on to highlight the devastating impact false certainty can have when it comes to legal matters—particularly criminal convictions. While most of Cohen's conclusions are well-substantiated, she employs the somewhat dismissive word ‘privilege' to describe an atmosphere in which one is encouraged to ask questions. The pages on racism take on a political feel and, in opposition to other focuses, messily fit within the core message: the value of admitting (honestly) when one does not know. While later case studies are still lucid, well-written, and at times heartbreaking, the section on pretending not to know something is fragmented compared to its predecessor. Furthermore, the link between the two sections feels convenient but ultimately superficial, as the latter section vacillates from the true concealment of knowledge from oneself to simple white lies told to spare another party's feelings. Skillfully worded throughout, the book contains nuggets of wisdom but does not properly integrate them. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
A noted author's short but pointed meditation on the difficulty human beings have in admitting their own ignorance. The fear of exposing our lack of knowledge is universal. Cohen (The Grief of Others, 2011, etc.) suggests that the reason for this is that doing so "could cost us the human company we desire [and] evict us from our place around the hearth." Indeed, the inability to understand the cosmos could threaten something even more fundamental: our very existence. Drawing from a variety of scientific, linguistic, literary and philosophical sources, Cohen examines both the human urge to conceal ignorance and its ramifications. The anecdotes are both illuminating and disturbing, and they are from personal experience as well as from the many informal interviews she conducted with people from different walks of like. The stories, which deal with family, friendships, school, work, social injustice and sexuality, reveal how factors like race, class and gender play into our need to dissemble when we do not know something. Cohen recognizes that "fakery is a vital currency in our social discourse" and that it often facilitates the expression of good will. At the same time, she points out that it can lead to the moral irresponsibility and emotional inhibition that can, ironically, endanger the very human connections we seek to cultivate and preserve. True empowerment, Cohen argues, comes from being able to take the chance we fear and confessing ignorance. Doing so opens us "to receiving information, ideas and perspectives from beyond the borders of the self" and reinforces relationships through honesty. Even more importantly, it helps us come to terms with the fact that the world can never be fully known and can only be appreciated for its "inexhaustible mysteriousness." Refreshingly wise and open-minded.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594632396
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/12/2013
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 279,118
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 8.14 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Leah Hager Cohen is the author of five novels, including The Grief of Others, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize, selected as a New York Times Notable Book, and named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews, and The Globe and Mail, and the forthcoming No Book but the World. She is also the author of four previous nonfiction titles, including Train Go Sorry. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
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(3)

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2013

    I'm nn I'm not sure

    The nook sample is only 9 pages, mostly title art. I think they got two sentences in the first paragraph. I guess i'll buy it so I can finish that sentence.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2014

    Aidan

    I guess

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 22, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    "I Don't Know" by Leah Hager Cohen is a nice book; sho

    "I Don't Know" by Leah Hager Cohen is a nice book; short at just over a hundred pages or two vente lattes at Barnes & Noble. Ms Cohen's premise is that we should be more willing to admit ignorance and doubt. She makes a good case, reminding me of several people who could use a little doubt in their thinking. 




    Uttering the simple phrase "I don't know" opens up the possibility of learning something new, an opportunity to hear ideas from another person, or even a chance to get to know yourself better. 




    While reading the book, I realized that there were thousands of books around me, millions in the world, and I've read only a tiny fraction of one percent of them. There is so much to learn, and so little time. Maybe some of that time should be used to listen, read, and learn. Perhaps that applies to all of us.




    Good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

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  • Posted December 15, 2013

    The concept sounds so basic ¿ what's wrong with admitting that y

    The concept sounds so basic … what's wrong with admitting that you don't know something?? Author Cohen points out that it isn't that easy. Peer pressure, the fear of feeling stupid (we all know about “The Emporer's New Clothes”), and the fear – note how this word keeps coming up – of appearing to lose some authority all prevent us from admitting to being in the dark about something.

    Ms. Cohen points out that it can be a sign of strength to admit to not knowing something, and can prevent sometimes dangerous assumptions. It can prevent someone like a doctor from making a potentially disastrous assumption.

    BUT … it's not always appropriate. Ms. Cohen cites having a pilot get on the loudspeaker and admit to an issue he can't handle as inciting more panic and less communication. Sometimes, it is impolite to admit to ignorance, and would hurt the feelings of someone. In these cases, maybe you CAN pull off the little white lie.

    Nice premise, nicely presented.

    RATING: 4 ½ stars, rounded up to 5 stars.

    DISCLOSURE: I was awarded an advance reader copy of this book in a random drawing, in the hopes I would read it and provide a review (but no requirements were placed on this hope).

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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