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The Power of Understanding: Embracing ‘I Don’t Know’ and ‘I Disagree’

Updated: Feb 6

Intelligence rules the world; ignorance carries the burden … ~ Richard Bach ~

Understanding view points

Understanding our viewpoints is a golden opportunity in our lively world of diverse opinions. Two essential phrases, "I don't know" and "I disagree," can guide our personal growth, improve communication, and foster meaningful dialogues. On the other hand, as with most situations, there are risks when we do not understand the origin and integrity of viewpoints – ours and others. While both phrases have a constructive role in dialogue, they can lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings, and, at times, baseless obstinance. Understanding and using their implications judiciously is essential to foster genuine dialogue and personal growth.

Let’s read how we can leverage them to grow while avoiding potential communication traps.

Understanding the Distinctions

1. “I Don't Know": Defining it through a positive meaning lens, this phrase implies an opportunity to learn. It's an invitation to delve deeper into a subject, indicating a desire for knowledge and understanding. It also acknowledges the lack of familiarity with a specific topic. It's a humble admission that you're either unfamiliar with the subject or haven't formed an informed opinion yet. Embracing the opportunity to learn to help you be informed and to select from better choices can lead to your eventual success.

2. "I Disagree": A statement of perspective that highlights your familiarity with a subject, suggesting a difference of opinion rooted in understanding or experience. Approaching disagreement through a curious and probing meaning opens doors to possibilities, creativity, understanding, and intelligence. On the other hand, “I Disagree” has a dark side too. There is a type of disagreement that betrays obstinance, pride, and ill will. As expected, this attitude resists listening, understanding, and improving. While the former approaches engagement to learn, the latter is invested in resisting. The outcome of the latter is ignorance and missing the opportunity to build bridges with others.

“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” ~ Benjamin Franklin ~

The Opportunity of the Know/Don’t Know-Agree/Disagree Matrix

Is there a way to understand what influences our readiness to engage in collaborative learning and avoid rival disputes? Here are four potential mindsets we can be in when deliberating with others:

  • I know and agree: The individuals involved share common knowledge and agree on its conclusions. This agreement, however, does not mean that the quality of the data and its conclusions are correct. To avoid blind spots, biases, and misinformed conclusions, it is best to seek evidence from third parties that can validate or offer alternate ways of viewing the situation. There is always room to know more.

  • I know and disagree: The parties have a unique and contrarian understanding and disagree on their meaning. This is a space of opportunity where sharing and seeking more empirical information from other sources can bring clarity. It also requires an open mind and integrity.

  • I don’t know and agree: Potentially, this posture happens either as an evasion or by trusting another who is respected because of their expertise. While there are many reasons to operate from avoidance, the outcome is that one or more of the parties are denied learning from one another. When the follower operates from trust, they are yielding as an act of faith, hope, and respect. However, this latter posture is not free of risks, and – depending on the situation or subject – time will eventually prove veracity. Hence, learning, doing a risk analysis, and seeking second and third opinions might be appropriate.

  • I don’t know and disagree: This mindset betrays a recalcitrant and uncaring posture that is not interested in testing the integrity of situations, learning, and changing its mind. As a result, the controversy has zero chance of being settled. Instead, solving the argument requires removing the root cause of the resistance. Overcoming this type of resistance can be best achieved through a trained therapist or coach, such as a meaningful purpose psychologist (logoteleology) practitioner.

Understanding these four mindsets can help us determine if we are “open for business” or more interested in a meaningless path. The ideal option is to have all stakeholders strive to end up at the first mindset – I know and agree. This will allow all to learn, grow, and build strong social ties. But what does it take to achieve this ideal mindset?

“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.”
~ Thomas Sowell ~

Challenges of and Solutions to Quick Judgments

Here are some challenges and potential answers to remove obstacles and enhance our dialogues:

social dynamics

Social Dynamics: Engaging in discussions with peers offers a chance to enrich our perspective. While adopting prevalent views is easy, embracing critical thinking leads to more profound insights. Meaningful dynamics lead to learning, while meaningless approaches culminate in ignorance and can damage relationships. Meaningful critical thinking requires remaining open to know more and disagree less. Through committed thinking partners, all can gain new knowledge to get closer to truth and reality – and be more agreeable based on sound judgment. Your perspective will broaden and enrich depending on the quality of your companionship. Hence, seek good and intelligent comrades – it will pay dividends. What will you do to make new friends and grow?

Benjamin Franklin

“Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.” ~ Benjamin Franklin ~

Self-awareness: Instead of rushing to judgment, recognizing our knowledge gaps invites opportunities to learn and grow. It's about valuing authenticity over mere appearances. This requires humble and mindful attention to what we claim we know, why we agree or disagree, and holding on to integrity regardless of where the facts take us. Regarding unproven and doubtful information, Benjamin Franklin encourages us to be mindful when he advises, “When in doubt, don’t” and “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” There are benefits to admitting your knowledge’s limits, avoiding agreeing with what has not been vetted, and learning more. What will you do to be more self-aware of your strengths and limitations?

“The knower is made also a doubter. Doubting is necessary to real living. Doubt keeps one from becoming inert, lazy, and proud. Doubt makes experience deep, puts consciousness in touch with reality, and makes life worth living.” ~ Alfred H. Loyd ~

Understanding Our Inclinations and Blind Spots: We naturally resonate with views that mirror our beliefs. In addition, we all have blind spots preventing us from seeing what others perceive clearly. Not surprisingly, our sensory and knowledge certainty can be easily chattered when blind spots to reality are revealed. The benefit is extraordinary – as the awe a blind person experiences when they are healed and thus are able to see – so is being released from the mental handicap of a blind spot. When others bless us by revealing what information is stealthily absent from our awareness radar, they get us closer to truth and reality. Benefiting from the help of others is indispensable. Having an open mind and welcoming attitude to new information will help us embrace diverse perspectives and challenge our views, which leads to a deeper understanding. The lesson? Find people who are different from you to help you discover what your blind spots are and fill knowledge gaps. This will help you know and agree more based on more information. How will you leverage diversity to grow?

happy learner

The Joy of Continuous Learning: A way to broaden our knowledge and strive for agreement is by delving deeper into topics, which leads to informed shared opinions and fostering genuine dialogues. Learning helps us discern and prioritize what is relevant and meaningful in life. This requires more than an open mind. We can be at our best when we have a healthy and strong appetite for learning, understanding, and responding. Studying can be even more joyful when shared with others! Enriching your life with continuous learning will make your and others’ lives more interesting and rewarding. What will you learn next?

Albert Einstein

“The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind.” ~ Albert Einstein ~

diverse voices

The Value of Every Voice: All voices, regardless of educational background, bring unique insights. We should not be too hasty to dismiss people based on educational background or any other attribution that might bias us against what they can contribute. We might be surprised! An inclusive mindset and collaborative approach can encourage creativity and innovation. And even if they do not have something worthwhile to add, why not be kind and respectful (prosocial), welcome them into the dialogue, and allow them to benefit from the interaction? Wouldn’t that be a meaningful act worth investing in?


Embracing ignorance and disagreement opens doors of opportunity and growth, assuming we follow a meaningful path. Being mindful of the four mindsets will allow us to discern what our posture is and the best approaches to learning and growth. The goal is to bring all the parties to the “I know and agree” mindset toward a shared and closer meaning of truth and reality. Operating from such an ideal state helps us surround ourselves with other open-minded individuals who are invested in learning rather than controversy. We are also well-served to be true to ourselves by acknowledging blind spots and knowledge gaps so that we can set learning goals from helpful sources. A love for learning and inclusivity can also open possibility and creative doors once thought impossible to cross. Finally, we can make new friends and deepen relationships to make all our lives more meaningful.

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
~ James Madison ~

Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose: Discovering Life's Answers. ™


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