Kevan Christie: Thinkers from Socrates to Jock Stein knew wisdom of saying ‘I don’t know’

Stein knew a lot about football, but would admit he didn't know who'd win the next Old Firm game
Stein knew a lot about football, but would admit he didn't know who'd win the next Old Firm game
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Too many bright young things seem to think they have all the answers, forgetting the wisdom of thinkers from Socrates to Jock Stein, writes Kevan Christie.

Watching the cosy Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing programme the other night, in which these national comedy treasures discuss and compare heart operations, I felt compelled to search the internet for a previous Fast Show character whose name I couldn’t remember.

Eventually, I managed to track down Indecisive Dave, played by Whitehouse in the early 90s.

The nub of these sketches is based on a guy who offers an opinion on something, say the England football team or crime, then changes his mind as soon as someone challenges him.

It’s clear that Dave doesn’t really have strong opinions on anything and is just trying to keep his end up in the pub chat stakes with his mates – who are more decisive than him. Dave would probably fall into the ‘don’t know’ camp when it comes to things like referendums and voting at elections.

The don’t knows are a group of people who have reached a certain stage in life where they’re happy to admit that they don’t know all or any of the answers.

No less a figure than Socrates – the ancient Greek philosopher, not the Brazilian footballer who ended up playing for Garforth Town – was also big on the don’t knows.

Quoted by Plato, he says: “I do not think that a thing could be such an evil for a man, as much as having a false opinion concerning the things about which our discussion is about.”

I would put myself firmly in the don’t-know camp on a range of issues, chief among them: how to solve the Israel/Palestine conflict, what a post-Brexit UK should look like, should Scotland be independent, why don’t we just use the Forth Road Bridge during roadworks, and will Rangers finish second in the Scottish Premiership this season.

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It’s liberating to admit you don’t know something, especially in an age when polarisation is taking place to the right and left of politics in the UK, Europe and the United States.

The rise of the Scottish Twitterati has seen a host of commentators crawling out the woodwork. These bright, young (annoying) things will give a strong opinion on anything at a moment’s notice as soon as the BBC call. No sitting on the fence, no room for discussion or subtle nuance – no, in they jump, giving it the full Katie Hopkins before taking to Twitter to signpost their latest musings.

Being Scottish in this day and age calls for taking sides and shouting loudly – we don’t really do discussions, only arguments and fence-sitters need not apply.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time arguing in pubs about subjects as diverse as: are tennis players fitter than footballers, who would win if Muhammad Ali fought Mike Tyson, is Easter Road Stadium in Leith, and could Rocky take the Terminator in a square go?

As the pints flow, the voices rise to a crescendo; nobody is listening to anyone else and whoever shouts the loudest is deemed the winner – it’s great fun but does little to increase understanding.

It seems that this culture has taken over in Scottish society.

Like most sons, I always ask my father for advice, probably too much. Only last week, I phoned him to ask what I thought about Jeremy Corbyn. This has led to me being mercilessly ribbed by mates who stick the “my dad says” label on any opinion I happen to give. Asking your dad is, for the most part, a good idea – unless your dad’s a serial killer or someone like Joseph Stalin, if that’s the case it would probably be better to ask your mum.

Clearly there are some things that nobody knows, but this doesn’t deter the foolhardy.

Sports journalism, in particular, is one area where any amount of daft questions are permitted.

“Do you think team X or player Y can win the league, match, cup, whatever?” is standard practice for your average hack. Of course, the real answer is almost always “don’t know” as the event hasn’t taken place. The late, great Celtic manager Jock Stein understood this more than most when he proclaimed: “Only a fool would try to predict the score in an Old Firm game.”

READ MORE: Socrates has the answer to Scotland’s problems

Bookies exist because we think we know something when we don’t. How many times did you hear someone proclaim, “I fancy Tiger Woods for the Open” last month or any other golfer for that matter. All well and good but there were 155 other competitors in that event.

So, who is going to stand up for the don’t knows?

Sir Vince Cable is being touted as starting an anti-Brexit Centrist Party but he’s an unlikely knight in shining armour, although he doesn’t seem to know much so that would probably make him an ideal candidate.

It would be a good idea to have another political party at some point with a nice centrist position kind of like New Labour – before Tony Blair decided he was in the SAS. They could certainly sweep up the ‘don’t knows’ and provide a much-needed alternative.

My message to everyone is give saying “don’t know” or “dinnae ken” a go. It’s refreshing and, after a while, people will stop asking for your opinion.