You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
February 2019

“You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know,” Liahona, February 2019

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

If we could just listen without trying to change someone’s mind, I think we’d be surprised what we might learn.

young adult man sitting in a pew

When I was in college, I went on a study abroad to the United Kingdom. At the time, I was really struggling to feel close to Heavenly Father. I went to sacrament meetings and church on Sundays, and I went to Catholic mass and a beautiful, quiet Quaker meeting. I went often to Evensong, a lovely Anglican choral service. I was looking for any place I could feel peace. I read prayer books in cathedrals and spoke the Apostles’ Creed with people whose beliefs were, in many ways, so close to mine. And I found God again.

I felt so much love and truth in those spaces. The message I got was that if God loved all His children enough to give them so much truth and beauty, then He also loved and knew me.

This is one of my favorite pieces of our doctrine, actually, that God gives truth to all His children and that they have truth to share with us (see 2 Nephi 29:7–13). In our church we talk about having a “fulness of the gospel.” But that doesn’t mean we know everything, and we’re not the only ones with answers. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles put it beautifully: “[Jesus Christ] lives today, mercifully granting unto all nations as much light as they can bear and messengers of their own to teach them. (See Alma 29:8.)”1

And it’s not just religious truth that God gives to His children. As President Russell M. Nelson explained, “Whether truth emerges from a scientific laboratory or through revelation, all truth emanates from God. All truth is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”2

I’ve seen that light and truth in so many books and people and places—while looking at books on art, visiting mosques, hearing speeches from scientists, volunteering with agnostics. They’ve all had truth to teach me—how to treat others better, to be kinder in my assumptions; in other words, they’ve taught me ways to follow Jesus Christ. But I had to be there—even if it was unfamiliar—and I had to listen.

Whether it’s about religion or politics or lifestyle, our world is loud, and we’re frequently bombarded by messages from people who are sure they’re right and can’t be convinced otherwise. Sometimes we’re that person. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “The widespread deterioration of civil discourse is … a concern. The eternal principle of agency requires that we respect many choices with which we do not agree.”3

We know that the Savior was concerned by this as well. One of the first things He taught when He visited the Nephites in the Book of Mormon is that “this is not [His] doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another.” We are to do away with such things. (See 3 Nephi 11:29–30.)

If we could really hear a person and try to understand where they’re coming from, if we could just listen, without trying to change someone’s mind, I think we’d be surprised what we might learn. We could find more sympathy and respect for their view or opinion, or at least not hate them for it. We might even learn a new truth to add to our own understanding. Or discover we’ve shared the same truth all along. The key is humility—and admitting that we can stand to learn from someone else.

There’s a sticky note on my desk that says, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s there to remind me that beyond my own experience, I’m essentially ignorant. It’s to keep me humble; I hope it’s working.

It’s also there to remind me not to stay ignorant—that I have a responsibility to keep learning and listening and seeking truth, even when that truth comes in unfamiliar packages. Heavenly Father has more to give us, if we’ll listen.


  1. Neal A. Maxwell, “O, Divine Redeemer,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 9.

  2. Russell M. Nelson, “Let Your Faith Show,” Liahona, May 2014, 30.

  3. Quentin L. Cook, “The Eternal Everyday,” Liahona, Nov. 2017, 53.