The power of the not-knowing stance | Inquirer Opinion
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The power of the not-knowing stance

It is one thing to argue beliefs and principles with a stranger in the comments section, but quite another when it’s with someone you care about. You cannot simply cut them out of your life. Their beliefs—and more importantly, their corresponding actions—do impact your day-to-day existence. So what does one do when principles clash in an otherwise loving relationship?

These musings stem from a conversation I had with a family member about my child. June is Pride month and I wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page regarding loving my child regardless of gender and sexuality. After professing unconditional love, our talk made a sudden turn when I asked for affirmation that my child will be loved if they ever identify as a trans person. I was shocked at how the immediate response was to offer violence and ostracism. It wasn’t even about how there might be a struggle to accept such an identity; the family member simply gave an ultimatum.

Even after reminders that (1) gender identity is not something one simply chooses, and is also (2) not reduced to what genitals or chromosomes one has, the family member still refused and insisted that there’s no such thing as a transgender person. I asked if he’s ever met one; he has not. I asked if he’s ever learned about gender and sexuality in school; he has not. So, I asked him how he can be so sure about something he doesn’t really know anything about. We reached an impasse. I gave myself a few minutes to ease my frustration (and reduce panic thoughts on how to protect my child). My solution for the moment: Giving a directive that if ever such issues come up for my child, I will take the lead and he should back off. To this he agreed, and we went about our day.

Confronting rigid beliefs is challenging. What surprises me most is the level of confidence people have for what they think they know. This leads to a lack of openness for other ideas and perspectives. There is also a dismissive attitude toward fact-checking and scientific inquiry. More importantly, there is a lack of empathy for someone whose lived experience is different from theirs.


Beliefs aren’t harmless; someone’s unchecked rigid belief can withhold someone else’s civic rights. Rigid beliefs against gender and sexuality have prevented us from passing the Sogie Equality bill (with Sogie standing for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression), which would have protected everyone from discrimination based on gender and sexuality.

Rigid religious beliefs will most likely play a role when the absolute divorce bill goes through the Senate.

While beliefs are personal, actions emanating from them can affect others. Thus, we should be responsible with our beliefs. It is often futile to tell someone that their belief is wrong; they will dig in their heels and double-down. Instead, we can encourage each other to adopt a not-knowing stance.

Not knowing is when we believe that we do not know everything there is to know in this world. A not-knowing stance is crucial in therapy; anyone with therapy experience will identify with the frustration of having their therapist not give them the answers to their questions. To realize that we don’t know something is to be open to the possibility of learning something new. We discover that there is room to grow. The not-knowing stance can develop into a curious stance. Imagine if someone gives you ideas contrary to your own. Instead of getting defensive, get curious. See if there is something new to understand in their perspective. Have enthusiasm for the ways in which your ideas can intersect with theirs.


When I am faced with a belief I initially cannot understand, especially one that has little empathy or care for others, I try to get to the fear behind such beliefs. What is the fear if people can no longer be discriminated against for their gender and sexuality? Why is the idea of a fluid gender and sexuality so threatening? Only when I can successfully address those fears and assure people that giving others rights doesn’t take away theirs, does the rigidity soften.

To realize that we don’t know everything is to also consider that we might sometimes be wrong. Not knowing helps us to develop humility. Humility serves us and others well. If we are humble, mistakes become less embarrassing. Egos are less fragile when we have humility. We can more freely recognize other people’s strengths and give them their due respect when we are humble. We can be genuinely happy for others, knowing our own worth is not threatened by other people’s successes.


Imagine if our public leaders adopted a not-knowing stance. They would be more open to feedback and ideas. They would encourage collaboration instead of competing for glory. They would not be hogging credit or become petty because it is okay not to be the smartest person in the room. And finally, the focus would be on solutions rather than on who is right.


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