On Asking Questions

‎Wednesday, ‎August ‎17, ‎2011, ‏‎4:00:00 PM | Annie Neugebauer

Sometimes, we don’t know things. No one can know everything, and every person has to decide what information is worth learning about and storing in their brain and what subjects are irrelevant and/or uninteresting. It is the way of the world. What might be incredibly obvious common knowledge to me might be something you’ve never heard of. And you might speak about something with a casual attitude that leaves me confused and reeling. It happens to everyone.

Now, the question is: When you’re on the clueless side, do you speak up, or nod along?

Allow me to give you a scenario. Now, as a disclaimer for the sake of my pride, I do know the most famous bits of history at least in broad terms. If you say World War II, I know the general dates. If you say Lexington and Concord, I know which war to put that in. But if you start naming people, specific minor battles, ships, Generals, and dates… well, I’m out. I have quite honestly never been interested enough in history to learn it more than required to pass school.

I was in a group of people when one man mentioned a historical battle. He mentioned it in such casual passing that I could tell he expected everyone to be familiar with it. When I gave him a blank stare, he repeated himself – which in some cases actually does help as I’m a bit hard of hearing, but this time it didn’t. I had no freaking clue what he was talking about. There were other people in the conversation. None of them spoke up, but I got the feeling they might not know what he was talking about either.

So what did I do? I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

There are two ways people react to this type of honesty. 1) They calmly tell you what the word means, when the battle took place, who wrote that book, etc. Or 2) They laugh, scoff, act incredulous, and/or use the How could you be so stupid? tone as they fill you in.

This man chose to do the latter. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I just assumed that everyone here had a basic understanding of American history.”

I’ve always been an inquisitive person. I’ve always asked questions when I need to. I was raised in the belief that that’s the only way to learn. If you don’t ask, how will you know? Needless to say, not everyone feels that way. I thought his reaction was indescribably rude. Not only was it arrogant and unnecessarily hostile, it implied I was either stupid or uneducated – neither of which is true. I’d be willing to gamble a hundred smackaroons that I know plenty of things that would leave that man gaping like a dumbass bass. But of course, I would never rub it in (at least not in real life — I get great revenge in my head).

It seems to me that there are only three choices. 1) Pretend you understand and try to follow along. 2) Keep quiet and look it up later (if you can remember). Or 3) Ask questions, and risk coming off as a ditz or fool. Clearly, I chose and choose the last. Knowledge is more important to me than pride, and not everyone reacts as negatively as the man in my example.

But I can’t help but wonder if I’m one of the only ones left who feels that way. I rarely see other people speak up. What do you find yourself doing? And what do you think is the right choice? Should you always offer up your ignorance to learn more, or should you zip it and play along?

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