What if everyone else is more special than me?

Being Ordinary


I don't know

This might be the simplest method of all. It's like the Byron Katie method, but reduced to three words. "I don't know." Just say them when you hear yourself telling a story.

I helped raise four kids. I wasn't bad at it. But one day on the phone with my ex-wife I noticed something was amiss. We were discussing a problem that one of the kids was having. I realized that we often talked about the kids as if they needed to overcome particular problems that had surfaced in early childhood. It was as if we were doctors and the kids had been diagnosed by us years ago, and the treatments continued.

The kid we had been talking about was in college in another state. When I got off the phone with my ex-wife, I called my kid and arranged to visit that weekend. As I walked out of the airplane, I reminded myself of my new mantra. "I don't know." Any time a story appeared -- a diagnosis or a repetition of an old idea about my child -- I would replace it with the simple, mind-clearing thought:  "I don't know." I did that.

Over the course of the next two days, I saw things about my child that I hadn't noticed through the veil of my accumulated assumptions. Here's a kid I thought had problems, and it turned out that he was the fixer in his social crowd, the guy everyone turned to for advice on how to solve practical and emotional problems. How had I missed that? It was as if I discovered him anew. 

When I worked in a big public corporation full of weird distortions and politics, this was quite handy. I had projected enemies, and I learned to walk into their offices and turn off my assumptions. Often, I came into contact with simpler, less antagonistic souls.

"I don't know" works because it's more true than I usually want to admit.