Paulelmo's Blog

The smartest people have no problems saying these three words

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I came across a headline on MSN.com, which read something to the effect of “The smartest people tend to say these three words…” Well, like just about everyone else, I want to be smart, or at least smarter, so I clicked on the link.

I was relieved to see that the three words it said that the smartest people say more often are “I don’t know.”

I have an interesting relationship with these three words. When I was young and unsure, back in my follow the crowd and agree with everyone years, you’d have been hard pressed to hear me say that I didn’t know anything.

I knew everything, and I’d make up stuff to cover for what I didn’t know. Even if it were a situation where I couldn’t make stuff up, I’d try to let on that I knew what I didn’t.

This was largely do to the uncertainty and the feelings of inferiority brought on by my drinking life.

As a problem drinker, I always felt guilty and unsure of myself, and I tirelessly worked at proving I was worth more than I felt I was. I told self-elevating lies about things I’d done, places I’d been, events I attended…and things I knew fell right in with that.

The irony is, of course, the more I acted like I knew that I didn’t, the more I talked about things that I knew nothing of, the less I learned.

I say that these tendencies were largely brought on by my drinking life, but they weren’t completely tied to that. If they were, I wouldn’t have begun to amend these character flaws until I got sober. That wasn’t entirely the case.

Getting sober did help, but I’d made positive movement prior to that. I think college helped (I went back to school at 32 and got my Bachelor’s at 37), and I know that having kids helped (Finn and Simon were six and two when I took what I hope will always be my last drink), but getting deeper into my sobriety has certainly benefited.

These days, “I don’t know” is one of my favorite phrases to utter. It doesn’t rank as high as “I love you” and “Thy will be done,” but it’s pretty high.

Saying “I don’t know” means that I accept the limits of my humanity. What’s more, those words don’t stand alone; rather, they beg other words. When I say “I don’t know,” it can lead to someone teaching me something. I don’t know, but I’m listening. I don’t know, but I’m willing to learn.

These are broken and incomplete thoughts, my friends, but they are what they are. I could go back and polish them, clarify, expand, but I’m not going to do that. Sure, I’ll give it a quick grammar check and see if there are any commonly confused words, but then I’m just going to give them to you for whatever use you can take from them. The guy I used to be, he who knew everything, wouldn’t have stopped at that. That would have risked them ever making it to you at all. That’s not me these days. The words are down; the point is made; the seen is sewn.

I think I’ll continue with this later, but for now I think this is enough. I hope you agree.

I love you, my friends. Even those I don’t know, I love you. I love you because I love your struggle. Yours is different than mine, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t get up this morning hoping to efficiently take care of all the things your station requires. I’ll let you in on a little something: there are those who didn’t. There are those who go about their days with what Sandburg termed “a lobster’s ease of life.” They’re living it up and spending all their time seeing what all they can get and do for themselves. I love you for not throwing in with that lot. Whether or not we’ll ever know how, my life, the life of every human alive right now is better because you woke up this morning a gave a damn, and I love you for it. You, your loved ones, and your efforts are in my prayers.

Until sometime soon…

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