Many years ago I knew a chap called Abdul, who was studying Maths in the same class as me. In every class we took Abdul would ask numerous stupid questions. They were about a simple calculation near the beginning of some proof that the professor had put on the board, and they were almost always asked after the lecturer had already filled half a dozen more boards with tricky stuff.
You’ve heard it said, I’m sure:
There is no such thing as a stupid question.
And you may have heard the wag’s response:
No, there are just stupid people!
So, back to Abdul:
“Here he goes again”, we’d say to ourselves when Abdul asked his question. And every eye would roll and there would be little chuckles and groans. Because, more often than not, Abdul was asking about something that was plainly obvious to the rest of us. But the lecturer would have to stop ask someone in the class explain that obvious thing to Abdul, and someone would and then the lesson could continue.
But sometimes, something very odd would happen. Abdul would as ask his stupid question and the lecturer would ask us to explain that obvious thing to Abdul and then… none of us could. The whole class (about 30 of us) was struck dumb. Somehow, every one of us had completely missed the point of that obvious thing. We had all assumed we understood it, but unlike us, Abdul somehow knew that he hadn’t. And on those occasions he was doing us all a great favour, of course. But only on those occasions.
Of course, those occasions occurred far more frequently than any of us cared to admit.
Now, Abdul was also a genuinely friendly chap, possibly the most friendly person I have ever met. So, despite our mocking and our frustration with him, Abdul was universally liked. But he was also deeply respected, because unlike the rest of us he wasn’t afraid to confront his own ignorance.
So here’s the thing: next time you’re not sure of something, your best strategy might be to just get on be your stupid self. Go ahead and ask your stupid question, and when you do so, ask boldly. And I’ll bet that – at least some of the time – there will be others who will have those very same questions, but who are too afraid to ask. And I’ll be that that – quite a lot of the time – there will be others who should be asking, but who lack the creativity to conceive the question.
But here’s the thing: even if nobody else is asking, even everybody laughs their socks off when you ask, there is one great thing to gain from asking “stupid” questions.
And that is answers.
So, go ahead, have the courage to confront your ignorance. It is more than many of us ever achieve.