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

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

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by Leah Hager Cohen
     
 

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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

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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.

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.)
From the Publisher
"A noted author’s short but pointed meditation on the difficulty human beings have in admitting their own ignorance. . . . 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 life. . . . Refreshingly wise and open-minded."—Kirkus
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 Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/12/2013
Pages:
128
Sales rank:
1,341,465
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 8.14(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

John Perry

"Short and engaging, but also powerful and wise. Cohen documents the natural human reluctance to admit ignorance, the damage it causes, and its sources in human nature and social structure. Like Socrates, she recommends that we take pride in knowing, and admitting, what we do not know."

From the Publisher
Praise for Leah Hager Cohen’s Nonfiction

“Remarkable and insightful . . . a parable of understanding . . . Ms. Cohen has given us reporting that feels like a love story—as intimate, tender, and troubling . . . as you are likely to find.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A breakthrough book.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Eloquent.” —The New York Times Magazine

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