Actively Not Knowing

There have been times in my life when I have actively sought to not know something. Working with young people to honor them as humans has been a great way to learn this humility. In our society adults constantly assert their knowingness over that of young people, especially in schools and youth programs. In youth voice work, which focuses on actively involving the ideas, wisdom, actions, and knowledge of young people, adults and youth have to keep in mind that adults don’t know it all. I have learned to apply this throughout my life.

I do not know it all, and I regularly assert that.

However, on the flip side of this is actively knowing something. There are many times in life when we have to do this, as adults, as workers, as humans. A lot of people aren’t cued into the amount of knowingness they have, as they take for granted their ability to learn, discern, critique and reinvent constantly. This happens in the grocery store, while surfing the web, and while walking down the street. A trillion times a minute neurons in our brains are firing and synapses are connecting, choices are being made and knowingness is happening.

Have you ever spent time with people who actively did not know things they actually did know? It may seem as if they are choosing not to choose, deciding not to decide. This is inactive not knowingness, and it’s different from the other two scenarios I’ve painted. In this scene the character leaves behind their abilities to make decisions, simply suspending their judgment- better or otherwise- while not knowing they’re doing this. They may appear incapacitated or indifferent to the choices that face them, allowing their knowingness to dissipate or surrendering their knowingness to others.

The reasons for this may be myriad, oftentimes the outcome of traumatic experiences or other dynamic situations.

However, in our day and age I am concerned that young people themselves are being routinely subjected to mass incapacitation of knowingness, largely but not exclusively dependent on their socio-economic backgrounds. They’re growing up in homes where parents have assumed majority decision-making responsibilities throughout heir childhoods and youth, to the point where these young people become whole incapable of knowing what they know- or what they’re supposed to know. Then they attend schools that have reduced learning to rote memorization, devoid of critical thinking, and then they attend colleges where corporate foundations donate mass amounts of money to ensure curricula are devoid of resistance.

The few young people who do break free of these environments of ignorance become cynical of the culture and society that raised them. In turn, they abandon the democratic ideals that fostered their families’ ascendencies into middle class in the first place, and they join the growing mobs of anarchic thinking apathetic minorities. All because they didn’t know. They didn’t know what they knew, and when they discovered what they should’ve known they rebelled against not knowingness.

Where in your life do you actively suspend your knowingness? Where do you passively close your eyes and go along for the ride? Take a moment and consider your family, friends, workplace, neighborhood… We all do it, whether or not we’re aware of it. Where do you not know…?



CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.



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