Friday, September 20, 2013

No Such Thing as a Dumb Question

"There's no such thing as a dumb question. Nothing stops learning faster than making a person feel dumb for asking why." -Journal, August 04, 2013

That's something I wrote down in my composition notebook, late one night while sitting outside looking up at the stars, wondering about the universe.

Following this, I wrote down a series of simple questions.

Things like:

Why does a star twinkle?
What are stars?
What are they made of?
How do we know so much about them, without having actually visited one up close, without having actually traveled outside of our own solar system?
How far have telescopes and satellites traveled away from the earth?

Simple questions, triggered by simple observations, whose answers are readily available online or in any basic astronomy textbook.

Nothing too difficult or overly profound, pretty basic actually, and that's when it occurred to me that some people, maybe not you and certainly not me, but some, my might call these questions dumb, simply because they are so basic, so rudimentary.

Some people who call a question dumb are being arrogant, and others are ignorant. Both laugh and pass judgement, one because they believe the answer is so obvious you'd have to be a complete moron not to know it, and the other thinks it's dumb to ask because not only do they not know themselves, they don't care, they simply do not believe it matters, and that it's a waste of time to even wonder about it; it has no value to them, and therefore it should have no value to you.

But for those who do know the answer, how many would have known it without books, without teachers telling them the answers at some point in their life? Would they have known it just by looking up at the stars and thinking about it on their own?

Maybe one in a million would, maybe even much less than that, but most wouldn't, had they not had teachers filling their heads with knowledge.

So at one point they didn't know. And odds are they didn't even arrive at this knowledge on their own, simply by thinking and observing and experimenting, but rather they were fed this information, and are now repeating it just like a parrot, but if by chance this parrot happens to be an arrogant parrot, they think, that just because they know something that they have memorized a million times over, that anyone who doesn't know it is dumb.

But they are actually not dumb. Why? because they want to know the answer. They seek to expand their knowledge of the unknown, to become smarter and more knowledgeable than they presently are. They know that they do not know, and they seek to know. They are curious. They are interested. How is that dumb?

Yeah, there are some people that don't learn as fast as others, who may have difficulties with memory and comprehension, but so long as they hunger to know, are willing to ask questions, no matter how dumb they may sound to others, that is a sign of an intelligent life striving to increase their knowledge about the world. On the other hand, learning difficulties aside, a truly dumb person, doesn't know and doesn't care to know. That is the crucial difference.

Questions lead to answers. They are often the first step in the acquisition of knowledge. Without a question you will neither know what you are looking for or if or when you have found it.

So, there is no such thing as a dumb question.

No one person knows everything. No matter what you know, there was a point in your life that you didn't know it. But once you've mastered it, it seems simple. There will always be someone somewhere who lacks the knowledge and skills that you possess, but at the same time there will always be someone somewhere who possesses other knowledge and skills that you don't possess.

In other words, everyone is both a teacher and a student.

Simple for you, difficult for me. Difficult for you, simple for me.

If you know the answer, you are the teacher. If you don't know the answer, you are the student.

I'm a pretty sensitive person. I'm aware of how words affect people emotionally. Not so much here, not in written dialogue, but when speaking face to face and in the same room, I'm usually acutely aware when someone's feelings are being hurt, or if a person is being treated unfairly, or spoken to in a manner that diminishes their humanity; particularly when it is subtle. If I'm in a public place somewhere I tend to zero in on that stuff.

Perhaps it is because sometime way back in the early stages of my life, I too was hurt emotionally, but I do not remember when or exactly what the circumstances were, but because of that, I understand when I witness it happening to others.

I noticed one time, many years ago, when I witnessed a child asking an adult a question about the world, and not only did the adult not answer their question, they ridiculed the child for asking it. The child was crushed. Since then I've witnessed it happen on numerous occasions, to people I know, as well as complete strangers. I usually do not interfere, but only observe.

I've noticed that the people who respond that way, calling questions dumb, often without providing an answer, tend to not be very compassionate people, and are often violent or abusive in other aspects of their life. Usually. In other words, not very nice people. You can usually separate the good parents from the bad parents, by the way they respond to a child's questions.

I sometimes intentionally ask "dumb" questions, that is, questions that I already know the answer to, and questions that most people know the answer to because they are common knowledge and not at all difficult, just to see how people respond, to see what kind of person they "really" are. Sometimes I'm surprised.

If a person asks a question that you think is dumb, try to have patience with them, understand that at one point in your life you too were in the same position, and didn't know things that were obviously simple to others.

*This is post 10 of 20, part of my 20 Posts in 30 Days challenge.

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