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The author presents a political agenda under the guise of a self-help book.

I Don't Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't) - Leah Hager Cohen

What I expected from this brief book, was a discussion on the advantages of being truthful, admitting errors, admitting ignorance, even when afraid of being viewed as a fool. My dad always said, the only really smart person is that person who knows there is still a lot to learn. Being able to admit you don’t know something, is the only way to learn something. I did not expect it to be this diatribe against the GOP and a cheerleading exercise for what the author seems to consider the more “emotional and compassionate” progressive point of view.
What I got out of this book is not earth shattering, but there were some interesting points. I agree with Cohen about children being more open and unafraid to ask questions about what they don’t know and are taught to be less forthcoming. She cites examples of fairy tales that children have identified with for generations, stories that glorify lies for personal gain. I believe that the same holds true for laughter. When young, the laugh comes from deep within the child, unabashed pleasure is expressed, but then, an adult tells them, shh, don’t be so loud, and they learn that it is more acceptable to laugh quietly, to hold back how they really feel for fear of ridicule.
Fear is the motivator for lying, fear of being found wanting. It is more egregious in academia and the workplace where judgment has higher stakes. I agree that we should not use lies or cheating to escape shame. A desire to escape the shame of not knowing can limit our possibilities. The fear of asking questions or admitting ignorance is based on hubris. We do not like to reveal, or are afraid to reveal our weaknesses and sometimes hide behind our own lack of confidence and do not admit the truth. Often this lapse of memory, this “lie of omission”, can have unexpected negative consequences.
In actuality, most of the people I have known who have been deceptive and prejudiced in one way or another were not conservatives as the author implies. They were people who believed they were entitled to stretch the rules a bit, for their own benefit, using rent controlled apartments meant for the poor, fudging on their tax returns while expecting others to pay full freight, avoiding responsibility in their teaching positions by having someone else clock them in and not arriving on time, arranging for cushy assignments, using sabbaticals to take courses for their own pleasure, like cooking and then stealing the pots purchased for the course in France, for their own use. So does that mean that most liberals are dishonest? Absolutely not! These are anecdotal experiences, not references from scientific studies. Much of this author’s anecdotal references are neither representative of the “right” side of politics nor of scientific studies.
Cohen writes about climate change theories, airline pilot decisions, police reactions to criminals, their use of excessive force, teachers who are sexist, teachers who don’t listen and stifle young minds, adults who sexually abuse young innocents, the tea party, marriage rights, racism, the Holocaust, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and any other liberal point of view that she wished to promote, but she did not present evenhanded opinions.
More specifically, she praises Obama and criticizes Bush, she praises Obama’s family values but does not quote Bush’s family interactions which are well known in a very positive way, she criticizes Israel but does not mention Palestinian behavior, she criticizes the police but makes no mention of criminal disrespect for the system, she praises those who brought up climate change, and criticizes those who would not enter the fray and offer alternate theories, but she does not really discuss the fact that climate change theory has been debunked, of late, she discusses racism but does not explain that often there is behavior that creates the “racist” fear she notes. I was innocent in wanting to read this book, I was looking for answers to societal failures, but I found that the author had an agenda, and it was very liberal. While the facts presented were often accurate, they were presented in a completely one-sided, slanted way to promote her very progressive views; she seemed to have an agenda.
She expressed the idea that listening is the key to really understanding someone else and the key to being able to be truthful; She believes that to be able to listen and really hear what others are saying, allows you to admit when you don’t know something, but I think that she, too, needs to listen more carefully to other points of view, without condemnation as her knee jerk reaction. At times I felt she stressed emotion over intellect, passion over facts, which contradicted her argument against lying and for listening. To her, listening meant agreeing with her very liberal points of view, which she presumes are the right points of view, which in and of itself, warns the readers not to do anything but nod to her, since telling her the truth, if they disagreed, would mark them as “conservatives”!
Cohen offered no concrete suggestions about how to fix the problem, all she offered was a finger, pointing blame towards those whose politics she disagreed with, and the book ended inconclusively. It seemed to end when she arbitrarily decided to stop writing, or when she ran out of anecdotes. From such an accomplished writer, I was taken aback. The author has used this platform to promote her leftist, liberal agenda, to compliment progressives and pretty much demonize those on the right. I thought the book would offer ideas about how to escape from “this abyss of estrangement” that she refers to, but instead it was a primer on progressive ideas and her personal politics.