“Stupid Questions”: Searching for Knowledge While Ducking Shame for Not Knowing the Answers

Hesitation before asking a question: I wanted to ask my writing group a question…I asked the question but found myself hesitating before doing so.

My personal assignment this week is to consolidate my writings since 2005, print, and highlight what I want to keep.

This act was a teeth biting moment for me. It doesn’t feel complete enough for me to do this yet. I printed out 90 pages today which included my outline. It feels good to have something I can hold on to. It’s nice to see physical pages after years of starting and stopping. I guess it is good to pause and see how much is usable instead of running in circles.

I asked my writing group how many words go in a chapter and a few helpful responses came my way.

I was worried everyone would tell me that it was a silly question…and that there is no “right answer”. I need structure to keep building. This is me. I thrive with good boundary setting. It is the only way I can contain the rebel in me while still expressing myself.

Yay I got good answers..fear you did not win this one: It was a good thing I asked and I 99% of the time always ask…but sometimes I cringe at the reaction to my question.

Yesterday, I heard Playwright/Actor Wallace Shawn speak and a woman in the audience asked “how to you lead a content life?”

Public Q &A: A lot of people in the auditorium laughed at such a deep question. But this woman was looking for something. She is looking for the answers to life through her fellow human beings. She was asking a writer who had just read some deeply thought-provoking things to reflect on something she is searching for. Or maybe she just wanted to know what he thought because he talked about this subject a bit in his readings.

I’ve been that woman before- asking a question that might be kind of out there. To me I see a certain pattern of a speech or conference along with what I am already wondering, and I ask a question that other people find strange. I observed the audience yesterday very closely. Some of them were silent and waiting for a response. A few people laughing might have been responding to Wallace Shawn’s voice being naturally funny. If you have seen him in the movies or on tv you may hear a rhythm in his voice that naturally carries a joke, perhaps even when he is trying to be serious.

How can we be encouraged to ask questions…and told that there are no stupid questions when questions aren’t always well received? How can we create a culture of innovation if we are always expected to defend our positions, when questions are asked in an exploratory phase?

Why would we feel encouraged to ask questions if there is RISK involved?

For those of you who want to know his answer…Mr. Shawn replied that only thinks of his life 15 minute ahead. He hasn’t really thought of his life as a whole and if it is meaningful or whichever vocabulary came from the question.

He said that his friends have found a fulfilling life through service/helping others. So the quest for contentment for all of us in the room continues…

My personal revelation of the week is that I have frequently been made to feel stupid during exploratory phases. This is why I feel like I cannot make any mistakes or why it’s hard for me to show myself “love and kindness” or why I am so hard on myself a lot of the time.

Here are two examples:

Example 1: The people I stayed with for a few days in the summer (middle school) asked me a few things about the government. I didn’t know the answer. They shamed me for not being informed. They told me that their children knew all of this information at a much younger age and how awful it was that I didn’t know.

They told me to go on whitehouse.gov and learn all the answers right away. Please remember that we didn’t google everything back then. Even so, I wasn’t even aware that it was even a subject I needed to learn about. It’s like teaching pre-schoolers what days are the week are or the concept of time. They aren’t supposed to know yet.

With regard to the internet, I had just sent my very first email that week. It was all so new…

Once school started I had civics class. I ended up loving it and getting 107 with the help of voracious extra credit. I learned about the three branches of government and was blessed enough to have a teacher who was magnanimous. It wasn’t my job to know before I even knew the subject existed or what topics were under that subject. Why was I shamed for not knowing something that I wasn’t exposed to yet?

I think we need to stop looking at knowledge as privilege. Or maybe look at lack of education more as a lack of access to education and not an intentional motivation stay uninformed.

Circling back to the internet, it is certainly an exciting time for education. You can get entire degrees online and post or look up amazing how to videos on youtube.

I suppose my solution moving forward...is that if I find myself talking about something in an attempt to figure it out…and the other party is starting to get into an argument with me…I need assert the fact that I am not taking a certain position but in an exploratory phase of learning.

I hope you are all finding ways to learn no matter what obstacles are out there because I can not be the only one who is looking.


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