Saying “I don’t know” may be the best way to start an honest conversation

I recently participated in an Instagram Live discussion with my fellow entrepreneur and public relations agency owner, Ashley Small of Medley Inc. Our original plan was to connect online and share practical public relations tips and communications takeaways about COVID-19. But just as we were preparing to begin the promotion of our online discussion, a very important social justice issue emerged with the death of Houston native George Floyd. As practitioners in the multicultural space we both knew that our plans needed to change too. 

After first postponing our session, we regrouped and changed it to include a conversation about Black Live Matters. Earlier this week, we held that discussion on Instagram Live. You can view it here if you are so inclined. 

For me, one of the points that stood out was about needing to feel comfortable with saying “I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” and “I’m not sure what to say or do, but I would like to…” Why? Because I believe a lot of us have asked ourselves some variation of those sentences at one point or another over the last couple of weeks. If we have, there likely was also some level of shame or guilt behind asking these questions out loud either to ourselves or to others because we think that we should already be in the know. 

What we may not realize is how normal it is not to have all the answers or to be uncertain about what to say or do when you don’t have a full grasp of a developing social justice issue. 

I believe making those expressions of personal uncertainty is part of the process of coming together and working together for the purpose of creating positive change. It is a conversation worth having because our starting points and respective vantage points are inherently different. If we can’t be honest about that with each other in an open and vulnerable way, how can we have the more important dialogue about racism, privilege, biases, microaggressions, and change? As many have pointed out, what is required now is more than performative activism. What is required now is a true commitment – to listen, to understand, to be present, and to do so consistently moving forward. 

The challenge is simple. Can we acknowledge our differences and overcome them together as a society, not only at this moment but for good? 

I believe we can if we begin by being honest with ourselves and with each other.

Juan Alanis Big Oak Tree Media

Juan Alanis is Managing Partner at Big Oak Tree Media. He leads communications strategy and public relations / digital marketing efforts for our clients. Contact him at 

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