You Have No Idea
What a Bad Introduction Sounds Like


“You have no idea” is always the wrong thing to say.  Authority, age or wisdom offer no exception to this rule.  To say, “You have no idea” is a discourteous presumptive dead end no matter who you are. Period.

For example: If you say, “you have no idea what it was like,” you prejudge my experience, belittle my creative power and offer me only two paths of recourse.  Agreement or disagreement.  Remember, you’re trying to explain to me what it was like.  Why bother telling me I have no idea about it.  What kind of pre-emptive strike is that?  There’s a chance you may mean that you also don’t have any idea.  But that would be silly.  The truth is, you’re telling me that you know what it was like and I have no idea what that could possibly be.  This may be true.  But, to begin a statement by pointing it out is an affront. And I take offense.

As I said, it may be true that I have no idea about what it was like. However, prefacing any statement in a conversation with an intellectual property rights disclaimer is in poor taste and way too early on the draw.

I may have an idea.  In fact, I have many of them.  I don’t know about you, but I have an idea what burning in hell for eternity is like.  Of course, I haven’t experienced it. .. yet.  I’m sure it would be far, far, far worse than I expected — beyond anything, retribution-wise, that I can simulate.  Oh Lord, please don’t let it happen to me… and so on. But, with all due respect, I have an idea what burning in hell for eternity might be like.  There’s a lot of pain.  It’s very hot.  It never stops and I would do anything to not be there.  But please, don’t tell me I have no idea.

Here’s another idea I have.  Let’s not even use the phrase, “You have no idea.”  Let’s simply not do that.  It’s a vulgar sentiment said, apparently, because you’re either insecure about what you know or want to bring division and rejection to the table.  Instead of saying “You have no idea” you can substitute it with something like “Can you believe.” “Can you believe” is an invitation, an exultation, a joyous beginning. 

For example:  “Can you believe when I was young, cows grazed on this land.”   Perhaps you can.  Perhaps you can’t.  Perhaps you don’t care.  At the very least, however, you have my respect even if you have no idea.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast August 23, 2013

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


Broadcasting Fridays at 8:50 am from KUCI 88.9 fm Orange County, California