Unknown Unknowns

Season 1
Episode Number
Release Date
March 8, 2019
The one who has knowledge restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a person of understanding. Proverbs 17:27 CSB

Introduction (00:01:01)

Hey guys, welcome back to the PSALMS to God podcast. So tonight, I was looking through the Bible, looking for verses for Monday's episode—and a little bit for, you know, like a midweek episode[1]—and I ended up in the book of Proverbs, which is always loaded with gems. And I stumbled across this verse that I feel like has been following me since I was a child—just the concept has been following me. And it's interesting because, you know, I feel like it's been reiterated in so many different ways, that I felt compelled to share it.

So the verse in question is Proverbs 17:27, and my translation says “the one who has knowledge restrains his words and one who keeps a cool head is a person of understanding.” This passage is something I really should have read when I was a teenager. I think it might have helped me a little; but they also say hindsight is 20/20 so it may not have had the same effects reading it before I experienced life.

Unknown Unknowns (00:02:25)

But one of the things that I think I've always struggled with is communication, in general. I feel like 9 out of 10 times when I'm talking to people, they’re hearing something totally different than what I've said and I cannot figure out for the life of me how they got what they got out of what I said. And I'm usually just like dumbfounded. I’m just like “wait, this conversation is going in a completely different direction than where I thought it was going,” and I'm very confused right now.”

And I know initially, you're probably thinking like I don't understand how that ties into this verse, but one of the jump off points that I kind of think sparked my understanding of this verse occurred when I was in my first year of graduate school. So y'all I struggled hard that year. I just struggled, and the major thing that I could not understand was that I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing but I was failing all my tests. I was getting a hundred on the homework. I was getting a hundred on the projects and the assignments outside of class. And I was reading the text. I was paying attention in class. I was talking to the professor during his office hours. I was utilizing the TA, and I still couldn't pass the test. And I could not understand it. So I went to my advisor at the time. I went to his office, and I sat down; I explained the situation, and I asked him what I was doing wrong and what I need to do. He looked at me and with a straight face he said, “you have to learn what you don't know and learn it,” or “you have to know what you don't know and learn it.” And I was like, what? How do I know what I don't know? If I don't know—if I knew that I didn't know it, of course I would learn it, but if I don't know that I don't know it, how do I learn it? And I was like so baffled. I could not wrap my head around what he was saying.

But over time, it started to unravel, and by the time I was actually graduating with my Ph.D., it's become one of my favorite quotes. You know, it's also sort of used in “The Boondocks,” if any of you are boondocks fans. In one of the episodes someone says there are known unknowns and then there are unknown unknowns, and this is the point that that professor was trying to make.

My advisor was trying to tell me that there are things that you don't know, and you have to be aware that there are things that you do not know. As I went through my Ph.D. process, I realized that the professors that I had that I thought were the most intelligent and the ones that were the most helpful throughout that process, were the ones who were completely aware that there were things that they did not know. And so, when I would have a conversation with them, and I would start to ask questions, and I was confused or I was bringing up situations, instead of jumping to a conclusion, they would hear it out. They would talk it out. And if they didn't understand, instead of, you know, talking down to me or acting like whatever I just brought up was trivial or irrelevant or stupid, they would try to talk through that particular thing.

I met a lot of people—particularly Ph.D. students and people who already have a Ph.D—that are so convinced that they are an expert and that they know everything, that any time somebody says something that is outside of their general knowledge base or their general frame of reference, they just shut it down automatically. And I think that we have this problem as people, in general, particularly in the church. So, as soon as somebody says something that's outside of your worldview or outside of your perception, the tendency is to just, you know, talk down to that person or think that that person has lost their mind.

Wisdom of God (00:06:56)

But in reality, when you have the wisdom of God, when you have the discernment of God, when the Holy Spirit is flowing through you, and you start to become a mature Christian, then you restrain your words. That is when you keep your head calm. That's when you gain understanding, because instead of reacting immediately, you allow that person to talk you into their point of view. A lot of times when we're looking at something, we don't necessarily see all the the details.

So for instance, we could both be looking out a window, and I'm a focus in on a squirrel that's sitting in the tree, but you may be focused in on this flower that's beneath the tree. And when I start talking about the squirrel, you don't see the squirrel because you're looking at the flower, and I don't see the flower because I'm looking at the squirrel. And if we just keep arguing with each other, we're never going to realize that they're both there, and they're both valid. And of course, in some cases maybe I think I see something that's not there or maybe you think you see something that's not there, but it's more beneficial to talk through it patiently, and with understanding, and with restraint, so that you can get on the same page. And once you're on the same page, then both people can learn something.

And what I found from all of those professors that I mentioned, where they would talk through the situation instead of immediately judging me for asking quote-unquote stupid questions, in some cases I was actually right, and I was actually bringing up valid things that they had never thought about. In other cases, I was off in left field, and what I was saying was absolutely crazy, but I built a relationship with those professors that I wasn't afraid to ask those questions, because I knew that it was going to be a productive conversation. And I gained knowledge from it, and they gained knowledge from it. And it’s a good partnership; that's how that's how conversations are supposed to work.

Patient Conversations (00:09:16)

And so seeing this particular verse in the text. you know. God revealed it to me through experience. but seeing it written out is just as beautiful. So, if you're having trouble communicating with people, if they're frustrating you, and you know, you're about to pull your hair out. just take a minute. Breathe. Restrain your words. Restrain your thoughts, and try to talk through the situation. Let the other person drive the explanation, and see if you can understand what they're saying. And also if you're on the other side and somebody's talking down to you, don't be offended maybe they're just missing something that you're saying. See if you can prompt the talking through process, you know. It's a little harder from that side but, you know, pray about it. and see if you can just explain more and be a little bit more detailed about whatever it is that you're trying to get across.

Wrap Up (00:10:19)

So I hope it helps you. Thank you guys for listening in. Don't forget to subscribe and visit the website. You can also find me on Instagram: shiree.hughes I will see you guys next time. In the meantime, you can find the transcript for this particular episode at www.psalmstogod.com/unknown.

References and Footnotes

1. But then I had to work late most days this week so it’s an end-of-the-week episode instead

PSALMS to God is a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel that discusses many topics and issues, always keeping YHWH as the anchor. Hosea 4:6 says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”—here, the aim is to always ask questions and study to find the answers. You can keep up with new content by signing up for the weekly newsletter.