Remembering What I Don’t Know

Grace under pressure button

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is.  

Today I’d like to offer a corollary: The more I think I know, the more I don’t realize what I don’t know.


Hang in with me just a second and with any luck here, this will make sense.

Sometimes the problem is not that we don’t know something, but rather not realizing that there’s something more that we need to know.

For example–and this one this one is near and dear to my heart as kidlet#3 has lost 10 lbs since yesterday throwing his guts up with food poisoning–Food safety.

what I don't knowWith all the weather we’ve been having, there’s been power outages all over the city, so fridges and freezers have been off for varying amounts of time, in some cases rendering food really unsafe to eat.

Granted, I often consider what my teen-aged male kidlets eat as ‘unsafe’–as in what’s the oozy green stuff  you put on that meatloaf and mac&cheese sandwich? But that’s really more a matter of taste that true food safety.

On the other hand, having taken kitchen management courses, I KNOW there are conditions of time and temperature that render food unsafe to eat. So when a friend called to tell me her friend–the one with medical conditions and frail health–had been without power for over 24 hours and wasn’t planning to throw anything out of the fridge, I was a little alarmed.  After all, the food didn’t smell funny and it was covered with fuzzy, oozy things, so it was fine right?

Ah, no. Not so much. 

Yeah, the apples and the bread, no problem.  But the restaurant left overs and the sausage you’ve had in there two years now–please for the love of all that’s healthy, get rid of it.

I’m pretty sure the fact that some restaurant didn’t do that is why kidlet is carrying around a bucket with him every where he goes at the moment. He’s miserable and it’s inconvenient, but he’ll be fine. The friend’s friend I mentioned, in frail health, could end up hospitalized or much worse for the same thing.

Assuming that they knew what good food looked/smelled like and not knowing what they didn’t know about food safety could have cost them dearly.

nellis-afb-81165_1280This sort of thing happens all the time, thinking we know enough to make good decisions only to discover what we didn’t know is charging at us teeth bared to bite us … yeah, there.

I think it shows up at its worst when we react to people not even thinking about what we didn’t know about their particular situations. I can think of several times recently where I’m so glad I kept my mouth shut and didn’t let the first dumb words just fall out of my mouth.

Like with the young gal at the bunco game  who wasn’t paying attention and was saying some kind of dumb things in the conversation. I was a little annoyed and had a couple of clever things to say, but just let it go.  Turns out she had just spent the last two days moving her and her kids out of her home after her husband beat her up. Again.  I think she had a pretty good reason to be distracted.

Or my friend that I was impatient with because she wouldn’t do anything if it meant her husband would be left alone. My first reaction was that she was clingy and immature. No, he had a serious sex addiction and would call escort services and prostitutes if he was by himself. And then the gal I thought was being petty when she was looking for ways to charge a little bit for some advice she was giving. I was so glad I didn’t criticize her when I found out she was trying to make ends meet with a monthly income that barely made it out of three digits.

In all of those cases, discovering what I didn’t know about what people were going through made a huge difference in what people’s actions really meant and how I should be reacting to them. I’m just glad in these three cases, I was at a place in my life where I could at least keep my mouth shut and wait to find out more. There have been plenty of times I haven’t and I regretted it, deeply. So, now I’m resolved to choke back those first often snarky reactions and get to know the rest of the story.

What about you? Have you ever gotten frustrated with someone only to realize you didn’t really know what was going on?


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    • LINDA ROOT on June 8, 2016 at 10:49 am
    • Reply

    There is a good deal of wisdom in this post. I recall an event when I was rather well known as a prosecutor of crimes against children, especially sexual assaults committed against prepubescent boys. Thanks to some people with special expertise at theSan Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s CrimesAgainst Children unit, and the educational opportunities offered by theCalifornia District Attorney’s Association, I was constantly surprised of how much I did not know. Then I began to measure profiles of victims against the behavior of my wonderful husband.My first response was.Naw!, and my second was “What if?”
    My law enforcement mentor, a nationally recognized expert, suggested, of all things, a book–Wounded Boys,Heroic Men.”Don’t’ say anything. Just throw it on the coffee table and wait. And then I knew. It was perhaps the most significant,but only one example of things I thought I knew but didn’t, wished I know sooner, and was better off for having the knowledge.

    1. Wow, Linda, just wow. That gave me chills.

  1. So now we have a specific name for the utter stupidity of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine…and, at times, Emma as well. 😉

    I tend to be a rather reserved person, so I usually end up listening for what else is going on because of my shyness . . . although I often make snap judgments in my mind. I would love to have the same listening mindset so that I don’t even *think* those snarky asides. But that will take a lifetime of self-control and grace…. 😉

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    Susanne 🙂

    • JanisB on June 8, 2016 at 11:04 am
    • Reply

    These types of leaps to judgment of people and their situations can be very unpleasant, but I interpreted the point a little differently. A recent incident in our lives illustrates:

    Last year we bought a used car. The dealer told us that the former owner had turned in only one key. Well, the car was good and the price very favourable so we bought it. What we didn’t know that we didn’t know at the time has since come back to haunt us. First, it is apparently common practice for dealers to keep a key for all used cars they sell. Second, the key to our car is electronic and dealerships wants $350 to copy and program it.

    It never occurred to us that we, amongst others, were being scammed. I mean, who thinks about keys when you’re buying a car? We have since done a great deal of research and discovered: First, tell the dealer that if they don’t give you two keys you’re not buying the car, and be prepared to walk away. Insist that they give you all the existing keys or at minimum cut you a second key. A couple of our friends have told us that this proved quite successful. Second, you can buy a key blank, get it cut, and program it yourself (thank you WWW!) for about $60.

    Not knowing what we did not know (and have since learned) has cost us considerable aggravation as well as time to resolve. Knowing then what we know now would have enabled us to make smarter choices, but we didn’t even know that we didn’t know it.

    Many thanks for a thoughtful post, Maria, and — having had food poisoning far too many times — I sure hope your kidlet is back to normal very soon.

  2. Yikes, so sorry to hear that your son is going through this. I’ve given myself food poisoning before by eating turkey that had been in the fridge too long (and I didn’t even have a power outtage to blame), but it sounds like he is having a rougher go of it than I did. As for my own “learning how much I don’t know” I suppose you can guess – writing a blog and keeping it going and doing all the little tech things one never expects.

    • Julie Buck on June 8, 2016 at 3:45 pm
    • Reply

    I have nothing profound (or even useful) on this subject, but the title and the illustrations brought me back to my childhood. My mother used to say “What you don’t know could fill a book!” I was 30 before I thought of the perfect comeback. “Just one?”

    • Deborah on June 9, 2016 at 4:46 am
    • Reply

    What a wonderful post, Grace. I usually mutter ny frustrations under my breath because I have, in the past, opened mouth and inserted foot.

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