– Kathy Bullock

This week’s word of the day has exposed how behind schedule I am with my alleged twice-weekly blog posts. I’d appreciate it if someone would hit the pause button on life, so my yen for blogging can be satisfied.

Do I get an award for three week’s worth of words of the day in two sentences?

This week our grammarian proposed “exposed” as the word of the day, to match the meeting theme, which was about how showing one’s vulnerability is a strength for leaders, in spite of it typically being seen as a weakness.

This idea reminded me of one of my favourite stories about a famous Muslim scholar named Malik ibn Anas, known as Imam Malik. He was born in Medina, now in Saudi Arabia, in 711, and passed away in 795. Imam Malik founded a school of law whose rulings became widespread throughout North Africa, Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), Egypt, and parts of Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Iraq. The school of law takes his name, Maliki law, and is still in use today.

The story goes like this: Once a man travelled a long distance to ask Imam Malik some questions. More specifically, he asked Imam Malik forty questions. Imam Malik answered four of these questions. And what about the other 36? To these he replied, “I don’t know.”

The man was taken aback, ““What should I tell people about these 36 questions for which you said, ‘I don’t know’?” Imam Malik replied that the man should tell the people that Malik says: “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t know.”

I wonder if Imam Malik said that with a straight face. The latent comedy hides the wisdom of not being afraid to be vulnerable, or exposed, in public. The insight is that only an arrogant person, or one lacking self-esteem, will claim to know everything. Not things we seek, nor need, from a leader.

Imam Malik used to say, “It is from the insight of a man of knowledge that he says: ‘I don’t know’.”

How would a Toastmaster feel about answering “I don’t know” to a series of questions posed by the audience? Stupid, embarrassed, undermining my authority or status – these come to mind. But wise?

Considering that a scholar, who lived as long ago as did Imam Malik, was teaching and demonstrating to his followers that it was part of wisdom to say, “I don’t know,” considering his stature as legal thinker, considering his leadership in the Muslim community, we can appreciate that the issue of vulnerability and leadership is connected to a problem endemic to human nature.

Saying “I don’t know,” showing vulnerability, exposing our lack of understanding – this takes courage.

For that, we all yen for, and I wish us all good luck.