I have never been afraid to ask questions. I have also grown quite comfortable, more so the older I get, admitting when I don’t know something. This is characteristically opposite of the stereotypical American male—the man who knows all and needs help from no one. I am fortunate in that I do not attach my self worth to the amount of knowledge I have amassed inside my head.
I am okay saying “I don’t know.”
I have my 8th grade science teacher to thank for this. For privacy, I will refer to him here as Mr. Smith.
When I was a teenage boy in middle school, Mr. Smith gave our class a wonderful piece of advice. Given that we were in a science-related environment, replete with theories, hypotheses, experimentation, and data collection, I took his advice at face value. Perhaps I was simply at an age where my young mind was receptive to input.
Mr. Smith simply said, “There is no such thing as a dumb question if you don’t know the answer.”
His advice wasn’t overly deep or profound, but it was clear and meaningful—at least to me. And believe me, I’m sure I asked a lot of seemingly “dumb” questions. I’m also sure there was a lot of snickering and eye rolling behind my back. But I asked anyway.
Psychiatrist and scholar Thomas Szasz said, “Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.”
Don’t be ashamed of learning. Don’t be afraid of asking. Be open-minded. Be receptive to input.
There are no dumb questions. Ever.
To your good fortune!