I have an emphatic answer to the question: Is saying ‘I don’t know’ better than guessing? YES! Every time.
(This is one of the question BBC asks in Time for some serious thinking, an article about UNESCO’s Philosophy Day, today.)
It’s not that I’m so much in favour of the guessing as much I am utterly against the ‘I don’t know.’
I didn’t find this out until I lived in Australia for a year.
It may have just been my unique experience but it seemed EVERY time I asked someone a question in Oz and the person wasn’t absolutely certain of the answer, he/she would say, “Idonknow.’ EVERY time.
It fell off the lips as the most convenient of cliches because it entirely pre-empts the need to think; to try to arrive at an approximation of a useful response; to collaborate on a journey to sort-out a puzzle. Idonkow stops a dialogue as fast as ‘fuck-off.’
With Idonknow you get no speculation, no educated guess, no creative surmise. You just get a thought-stopping nothingness.
It drove me up the wall.
‘Well, think about it for crissake. I don’t know, either, that’s why I’m asking, so speculate, give me something, anything, a hint, a tid-bit, a guess. What do you think? Try.’
I took the Idonknow to be a cultural tick, a kind of near cousin to the slap-happy ‘no worries.’
Aussies tend to use the ‘no worries’ when things go wrong and they probably should worry. It’s as pre-emptive as Idonknow. Rather than learn from the mistake/mishap they dismiss it with the gentler, more endearing equivalent of our “who gives a shit.”
I loved Australia. It was my experience that Aussies are a beautiful people with lovely demeanours and cheerful ‘what me worry’ dispositions. And they have bred some Rhode Scholars and Noble laureates … and I’ve always wondered how.