The Importance Of I Don’t Know

Importance-Of-I-Dont-KnowI ate ham.

Let me back up a bit.  Those that know me know that I keep kosher.  For me, this means, among other things, not eating foods containing pig products.  So no bacon, no pork sausage, and no ham.  To keep things simple, I usually eat vegetarian out.  If a dish is vegetarian (or even vegan), I know it will meet my dietary restrictions.  (Besides, it’s simpler to say "I’m a vegetarian" than it is to explain my complex kosher rules.)  Within this restriction, however, I can be quite adventurous when it comes to food.

Last week, B and I got to eat lunch out without the boys.  We went to a local branch of a popular restaurant chain.  (I’m keeping the chain nameless… You’ll see why later.)  This chain has a lunch special where there is unlimited self-serve soup and an entrée for a reasonable price.  When we go, we usually order our food, fill up on soup, and then bring the entrée home to have for another meal.  This way, we make the deal twice as good.

Anyway, I had just had my first bowl and went for a second.  I saw two soups that I knew were fine for me, a third that I knew wasn’t, and a fourth that I had never seen before.  The name should have been my first clue:  Cuban Black Bean and Lentil.  A hostess was setting out more bowls and I asked her whether this soup was vegetarian.  Without hesitating, she said that is was.  Specifically, she said it had no meat in it.

I got myself a big bowl of it and went back to my seat.  The soup was thick, almost like chili, and had a great taste.  I was a quarter of the way through the bowl when I noticed something tiny in it.  A cube about a quarter of an inch wide.  I asked B what she thought that it was and she agreed that it looked like meat.  But the hostess had said there wasn’t any meat.

Luckily, the restaurant has a computer system with the ingredients of all of their dishes.  I went to that and – sure enough – the second ingredient in the soup was ham.  Needless to say, I was disgusted.  We told our server who brought over the manager.  The manager apologized, took my meal off the bill (something I didn’t ask for), and said she would speak with the staff about this.

In my case, the infraction was bad, but could have been worse.  Apart from some lingering feelings of disgust, I was fine.  Had this been a situation with an allergen, it could have been much more dire.  (Imagine if I had a peanut allergy and they said there were no peanut products in a soup when there were.)

This (in a very roundabout fashion) gets me to my point: The importance of "I Don’t Know."

All too often, people feel the need to fake knowledge.  They feel that admitting to not knowing something is a sign of weakness and it is better to feign knowledge than to reveal ignorance.  In fact, it is a sign of great strength to admit when you don’t know something – especially if that admission comes with a quest to learn the answer.

Other servers in that restaurant, during previous visits, have told me they didn’t know and would check on the meat content of various dishes.  When NHL or JSL asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to, I don’t make up an answer to seem all-knowing.  Instead, I’ll say "I don’t know", will pull out my computer or smartphone, and will look up the answer with him.

The next time you encounter an inquiry that you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know.  If we never admitted to our ignorance and sought out the answer, we would never learn anything at all.