A Big Truth: “I Don’t Know”

"Jesus Teaches the Child" by Judith Costello

“Jesus Teaches the Child” by Judith Costello

My husband says, “If you don’t know what you don’t know, then you are dangerous.” That bit of wisdom is important….but it requires some effort to puzzle through what it means. Although he is eighty-three and knows so much more than the average adult because he’s a voracious reader and deep thinker, Jurgen never pretends to “know it all.” He has tried to teach our kids this one lesson, which is repeated often in our house: “If you don’t know the answer, admit it. That does not mean you’re stupid. It means you are aware that only God Knows Everything. Computers are just a warehouse which includes writings from thinkers, mixed in with whatever garbage anyone wants to posit as knowledge. Don’t make yourself out to be God.” He goes on to tell them that they can add, “I will find out,” to their “I don’t know.”

If you commit to learning something new because you’ve been asked a reasonable question, then you are demonstrating a desire for wisdom.

The problem is this: Our culture tends to no longer look to elders for advice or wisdom. Technology is seen as the tool for finding answers. And when I interview young people, they often refer to their ability to work with electronic devices. It seems that nowadays, it is kids who are often in the position of having to instruct their elders in how to use these devices. And some of us who are older—I am one of them—just don’t pick up on this fast enough. So the lessons must be repeated. Sigh!

[Hmm. It seems Jurgen is often repeating a truth lesson. See above.]

Young people, who are not specially trained otherwise, are now thinking that THEY know more than their elders. And thus, we begin another form of cultural decline. No matter how quickly you can access data via a device, this can never be a substitute for being able to put together a sentence together such as the one I wrote at the beginning of this story. And the truth is, accessing data has nothing to do with knowledge that is grounded by experience, history and the truths lived by faith. Remember that Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

When young people dismiss their elders because they don’t “know,” then kids become un-teachable. And that is very scary. Teaching is an art form that means the teacher (parent, senior, pastor, etc.) senses what the student needs to know and offers the lesson in ways that the student can absorb, so that it becomes a part of the student. Teaching is “an inside job.” The goal is that knowledge is integrated into a worldview that has been acquired, first, within a family setting. And the family is modeled after something bigger—the Holy Family is the best model for life.

Young people do not have life experience. And they are currently not being taught much history because such subjects are no longer seen as important. Faith is completely pushed out of their learning environment. So, unless young people have a strong family life, they are apt to go forth into the world feeling outwardly superior—“I know that”—but inwardly empty. There is nothing that has been internalized! And that vacuum poses a huge problem.

Thus, we come to Jurgen’s wisdom. We have to teach self awareness so that kids know this:

  1. They don’t have to know everything. They can place themselves in God’s hands for help. In truth they know very little. But learning is possible.
  2. Technology cannot teach you how to “know what you know and what you don’t know.” The skill needed is discernment.
  3. Real knowledge/wisdom is a “lived thing.” It is rich in experience, history and faith.
  4. “Respect your elders” means more than just patronizing them. It means conforming your attitude so that you become teachable. It is an openness to learning from another who has lived experience and a worldview that has been tested.

It’s important to “know what you don’t know” and to understand that your devices do not make you knowledgeable. Our hope is in realizing that we don’t have to have all the answers. That’s a God thing! “He’s got your back,” as the kids would say.

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About the Author

Judith Costello, MA, OCDS was a Catholic Worker and a catechist as a young adult. Then the feminist movement called to her during the 1970s-1990s and she fell away from the faith. She was sure, during those years that being a "good person" was all that God expects of us. Over the years, pride and politics took her farther and farther from the truth that God asks us to live in virtue, offer sacrifices, and come closer to Him in the sacraments.

After a divorce, Judith met a man who encouraged her to to Come Home. Judith and Jurgen now live on a small farm with two teenagers and lots of animals. Along with the children, Judith is active in the Church as a catechist, lector and sacristan. They take care of Jurgen who is now in poor health. Judith is a secular Carmelite and author of two books on Prayer and Mariology. She writes curriculum lessons for www.catechismclass.com. Her artwork in featured at www.flickr.com/photos/faithart/ and on Facebook. Judith blogs at CatholicMom.com.

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