Sometimes I can feel the tension that will come if I engage and wrestle with certain questions.
Someone may ask me a question that causes me to pause and consider a part of life that I had buried in vague memory.
So, I avoid all of it by giving the perfectly believable answer of “I don’t know.”
Why did you try to create your own Wikipedia page while in college?
“I don’t know.”
Why do you think she broke up with you?
“I don’t know.”
Do you think you’re holding onto anger towards that person who wronged you?
“I don’t know.”
When certain questions are asked that lead to murky, possibly compromising waters, my first reaction is to back away and leave the question unanswered by pretending that I have no insight.
In reality, the mental struggle that takes place is one of deciding whether or not I am willing to delve into unsure, complicated, and potentially (often likely) embarrassing or humbling memories of past behavior and decisions.
The question doesn’t even have to come from another person. Often, the question is one I ask myself.
My Own Wikipedia Page
I was laying in bed a few nights ago, unable to find sleep as quickly as I would have liked. Inevitably, my mind began to wander. It struck me as funny and strange that there was a time during my undergrad when I tried rather persistently to create my own Wikipedia page.
I asked myself, “Why did you try to create your own Wikipedia page, Jeremiah?”
What at first seemed an innocent question immediately brought up memories of insecurity and poor decision-making in that period of life.
Therefore I answered myself, “I don’t know.”
I didn’t want to open that can of worms. I knew that there would be not-so-pretty factors that played a part in my attempts to create my own page. I knew that I would have to come to terms with aspects of my past-self that I was not proud of and tried not to remember too often.
Therefore, the easiest route was to leave it all with an “I don’t know.”
After a moment of thought, I forced myself to search for the truth, regardless of the fact it felt it may be compromising (or, perhaps, because it felt it may be compromising).
The truth is that I felt the need to create my own Wikipedia page because I was terribly insecure, had a goal in mind, and was rather lost and therefore prone to trying strange things for the sake of putting myself out there.
At that time, I was trying to teach the lessons I had been learning through reading, thinking, relationships with mentors, and writing, to my peers at UCLA.
I wanted to reach out to those around me and share all the wonderful lessons in life that I felt I could share.
But who was I to do so?
I looked around and saw peers with platforms built on years of practice in their respective fields.
I was unsure of my worth and I was playing the deadly comparison game.
Combine the insecurity, the desire to be taken seriously, and my overall willingness to stir the pot and do things most people think are strange, and you get multiple attempts (and rapid rejections) for Jeremiah Luke Barnett’s Wikipedia page.
Do I regret any of it? Not at all.
Do I regret answering the question, however, with an excuse in not knowing? Absolutely.
I feel compassion for the young me who tried to create his own Wikipedia page. I understand where his mind and heart were and I am grateful for what I have learned since that time.
Why Did She Break Up with You, Jeremiah?
“I don’t know.”
It is quite satisfying, in a twisted way, to look back at life and see that you were the victim and others the wrong-doers.
False victimhood is an easy answer to relationships-gone-sour. “I don’t know” is, in essence, my unwillingness to acknowledge and accept responsibility for my own behavior that contributed to the breaking of a relationship.
I had the privilege of spending a good deal of time with someone special in college. They showed me a level of kindness that was not present in my life at that time and to this day I am grateful and humbled by how they treated me.
Their persistent and heart-warming kindness only prompts my “I don’t know” that much faster when asking myself why things went south between us.
Clearly, I am hiding from something.
After some thought, I remember a Jeremiah that allowed the pressure of seemingly large responsibilities and heavy struggles at the time to weigh him down enough that he turned in on himself and become rather selfish.
Taking advantage of someone’s willingness to show up for you by becoming lazy and half-hearted with the way you show up for them is less than admirable behavior.
Letting go of my appreciation for the way they showed up for me, taking it for granted, is a behavior I am not proud of having exhibited.
Our struggles are real. The weight of our burdens is real. Yet, we cannot let those things harm the ones who love us.
It is not easy to admit fault in anything, let alone the poor treatment of someone undeserving. But if I always answer with “I don’t know,” I will never learn enough to change the patterns that led to the tattered situation in the first place.
I delve into bad memories of poor behavior and seek to understand in order to change because I respect and admire those I’ve wronged and wish to improve enough to avoid harming others in the future.
Holding Onto Anger
This “I don’t know” carries with it loads of undealt-with bitterness.
I closed my eyes and pictured the faces of the two people who still caused my skin to prickle and my mood to turn dark when brought to mind.
Although I had “forgiven them” several times, it was clear to me that I was holding onto this bitterness.
Why are you holding onto anger towards the persons who’ve wronged you while falsely claiming to have forgiven them?
“I don’t know.”
I kept my eyes closed and forced myself to think more deeply about this bitterness that I was letting live within myself and control me.
That was when I realized that the faces I kept in my head representing these two individuals were both quite mean faces.
Both were twisted in angry expressions that could only be interpreted as hateful and desirous of causing harm to others (namely, me).
I had decided to represent these people in my head using the most upset-looking faces I could come up with.
Of course I was still upset at them. I had frozen them in my mind at their worst moment most likely as a convenient way to maintain my bitterness toward them in a seemingly justifiable way.
If someone gives us a nasty look, how much less guilty do we feel for returning the favor?
Realizing that I had captured these people at their worst and was essentially perpetually judging them on that single moment of meanness toward me was deeply disturbing.
One of my beliefs in life is that one should not judge another based on any single moment of their life or off any single action of theirs.
And yet, here I was doing precisely that in order to hold onto my anger.
My “I don’t know” concealed all of this, of course.
Once I dug beyond the “I don’t know” I was forced to either willingly, knowingly hold onto my anger and maintain these angry faces in my head (of two people who have undoubtedly already forgotten about the incident in the first place), or, to live up to my own purported beliefs and not allow a single incident to dictate what I thought of someone and therefore realize that my anger for these two was long overdue its end.
Do You Know?
The thing that most starkly sets you apart as different than the person to your left or right is your combined set of experiences that make up your life.
Therefore, to leave many of those experiences as murky, undealt-with memories from which we have not learned, is to essentially give up portions of who you are for the sake of avoiding the difficult task of thinking through often less-than-pretty memories of past-behavior.
You are giving up a better future-you for the sake of avoiding the responsibility of momentary struggle with your past-self.
The tragedy runs even deeper in that, as was the case with my bitterness, often by refusing to confront unpleasant memories and poor past behavior, we are not letting that part of us go, we are planting seeds such as bitterness and watering them regularly to the point of allowing something to control us that we refuse to acknowledge.
I encourage you to avoid giving that all-too-easy answer, “I don’t know” without first wondering if that is a thinly-veiled excuse meant to temporarily protect you from the responsibility of owning your actions, past, present and future.
Do you know? Are you merely hiding from the hard work of responsibility for your actions?
I don’t know, but you do.