Friday, 17 February 2012

The myth of the Stupid Question

It was a semi balmy day and my siblings and I were stretched out in the living room, too satisfied with our current positions to even consider moving. Suddenly, the Rebel Sis perked up, looked me straight in the eye and asked:

"Hey. What's the Holocaust?" 

For a second, I stared back incredulously - was she serious? Was she genuinely asking me this question?
But just then, I remembered - she'd spent two years of her schooling in Nigeria during when thy would have taught the Holocaust at school in England. Although I wasn't incredibly sure, I doubted that the Holocaust was a huge part of the Nigerian curriculum. Upon realising this genuine reason for her not knowing, there was also a part of me that was chuffed that she'd thought to ask me to enlighten her upon this topic.

On the flip side, when my mum and I were in the kitchen prepping food, whilst peeling the obligatory onions and garlic, I looked at my mum and asked, "Mum, does garlic grow on trees?" My mum had grown up on a farm and so threw her head back and started laughing at that simple question that seemed plain ridiculous to her. When she had finished displaying her mirth, she opened her her eyes to see my patient fifteen year old self waiting for a response. I had grown up in London, and never grown anything of my own because we bought everything from the supermarket, so how was I to know?

Thus it drives me nuts when questions are labelled 'stupid'. It shows a massive assumption on someone's part that certain types of knowledge are universal and prevents people who don't know from learning. because they're afraid of being painted as stupid as their question would be seen to be. 

I don't know if I believe in stupid questions. But I know I think that childlike questions definitely exist - questions innocently asked to someone they trust has more knowledge in that area than themselves; questions that they genuinely would like the answer to; questions that show a gap in knowledge that they long to have filled.

Basically, it means they trust you more than they trust Google.

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