The Most Difficult Three and a Half Words

A close friend has been experiencing extreme leg pain for over a year. She’s seen a medical conference worth of docs, had tons of tests, and is still lacking the thing she wants most—a diagnosis.

A month ago I went with her to an appointment with a rheumatologist who said the root problem was not rheumatological. Unable to string together the most difficult three and half words, he offered up a boilerplate myofascial something or other hypothesis.

Today we travelled long distance to see The Man at the Pain Center at the hospital in the Big City. I am always in awe of ace doctors. Dr. Ace studied her file for a long time, asked clarifying questions, and then continued with more questions during a physical exam.

In the end, he said, “I’m not clever enough to know what’s wrong.” I dig the way Brits use “clever” instead of “smart”. It’s clever. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about the brain,” he explained. Deeply disappointed, my long-suffering friend pleaded with him for a diagnosis. “I just want to know what’s wrong with me.” At which point he said the three and a half words, “I don’t know.”

Imagine if we lived in a world where one political candidate attacked another about flip-flopping and asked, “How can we be sure you’re not going to change your mind again?” And the candidate responded, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which every financial analyst asked to make predictions about the market in 2012 said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a Westpoint political science prof when asked about the lessons of the Iraq War said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Christopher Hitchens, when pressed to explain why he was so sure there’s no God had said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a man driving aimlessly in a car, when asked by a woman whether he’s going in the right direction said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Billy Graham, when asked to explain why he’s so sure there’s life after death said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Hilary Clinton, when asked what will be required to bring genuine Middle East peace said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Tom Friedman, when asked what the United States must do to reclaim it’s greatness said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Bill Gates, when asked why he thinks his teacher evaluation plan is going to improve schooling said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a blogger, when asked why he thinks everyone would be well served by greater humility and honesty said, “I don’t know.”

4 thoughts on “The Most Difficult Three and a Half Words

  1. Wow, Thank you.
    I had never ever heard it put as 3.5 words. I had to think about that! That DID slow me down and make me think!
    Humility is so often confused with humiliation. It is not. It is being teachable, and open-minded. Where I come from, if you are not saying those words you are “dying” and don’t know it….Put that with what you’ve posted and wow, wow, wow.

    I think it goes like this “If you think you know, then you don’t know, but when you finally know that you don’t know then you can never not know that you don’t know again.” Ie once you open your mind it will change your life.

    Wow, if we applied THAT to what you have just so eloquently stated…. wow.

  2. I must confess, it is so much easier for me now that I am older to admit that I simply don’t have the answers, nor do I even want to venture a guess. How odd that when we are older and somewhat wiser that it is now, rather than in our youth, that we concede we’re not as smart as we thought we were.

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