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there is no such thing as a stupid question

 
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When I am at a presentation and hear these words, I put my hand up and wave it wildly.  When called on to ask my question I ask "Do I like pie?"
 
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This comment has driven me nuts my entire life. When I taught, I was asked numerous stupid questions. The one that jumps out is when a student ask a good question and i answer it in detail. Then, another student asks the identical question. I answer that. Then a third student ......That is when I tell that student to get the answer from the class members who were listening the first 2 times I answered it.
 
paul wheaton
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I once heard Sepp Holzer say "That is a stupid question.  I give your question the grade of F." And then he waves his hand dismissively and goes to the next question.    
 
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You could argue about whether or not questions at the bottom end are stupid or not, but when you hear a GREAT question you know it. Probably about once a week in my job I get a question like that.

Of course the rest are questions like “Sir, do you know what’s for lunch today?” While I’m midway through proving the quadratic formula from first principles...
 
John F Dean
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I will grant that there have been times when the question sounded stupid due to the wording of it when, in fact  the concepts behind the question were brilliant. It was just that a poor choice of words was used.  Nevertheless, I have encountered stupid questions.  I imagine I have asked a few.
 
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I think the stupidest questions are the ones we are afraid to ask, and so never ask. I will never understand prioritizing one's ego over enlightenment.

I also get Sepp's position, in that if you're busy trying to convey a tonne of information and someone asks a question covered in the readings, that person slows the pace of everyone else's enlightenment. Context is key.

-CK

 
John F Dean
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Hi Chris,

You make a good point about context.  Most of the questions that I have seen as stupid would not have been so bad in a different context. Using my previous example,  if a student approached me outside of class for a further explanation, I would not have been bothered.
 
John F Dean
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Closely aligned with this is the disingenuous comment. There is a story about a young man being in a elevator with Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy. The young man commented "I was really Impressed with your lecture."  Perls responded, "Bull shit!"   The man made another similar comment. Perls responded, "Bull shit!"  Finally, the young man said, "look. I am really nervous being trapped in this elevator with you."  Perls responded, "Now we are getting somewhere."
 
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A refusal to label stupidity as such seems uniquely American, as part of some egalitarian process which ensures that everyone needs to be heard.  My German-descent and German trained relatives don't put up with such permissiveness, nor do the French.

When I was teaching at a university I always had to keep my tongue in check because I so often wanted to drop the "that's not even wrong" or "everyone is now dumber for having listened to it" lines.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong
https://www.quotes.net/mquote/9830
 
John F Dean
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It is probably my American upbringing.  While I feel comfortable making a statement of fact ....such as, "I have already answered that question 2x"  I dont feel comfortable  assigning value unless it is absolutely necessary. Even in substance abuse counseling I could ask, " explain to me what part of your decision making was beneficial to you or anyone else."    
 
Eliot Mason
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Yeah, its hard assigning value.  I both admire my relatives and colleagues who can do it, and I absolutely fear them as well.  So as much as I would like to be on Team You're Stupid, empathy means I'm usually not there.
 
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John F Dean wrote:While I feel comfortable making a statement of fact ....such as, "I have already answered that question 2x"  I dont feel comfortable  assigning value unless it is absolutely necessary.  



As a teacher, I always thought that the meaning of the "no question is stupid" thing is that if somebody asks a question that I assume they must know already, the fault might be with me, the teacher. I may have explained it poorly, or in a way that didn't work for several students (usually the only one who spoke up is not the only one who didn't get that point). Or I may have mistakenly assumed background knowledge. In the Asian culture where I work, respect for teachers and elders is so extreme that most students are afraid to ask a question even if they don't understand. So I like to encourage questions, and I figure if one person asks, several others actually wanted to know.
 
pollinator
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On the one hand, in a middling sized group lecture/discussion setting, if one was paying attention and has a pertinent question, good odds someone else was wondering too.


On the other hand, my favorite response to 'no such thing as a stupid question' is 'what kind of idiot would come up with that?'

But seriously, a fellow would have to be REAL dumb to not be able to think of a stupid question! Heck, I could do it with one hand tied behind my back!
 
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When it happens here at permies, seems like it's usually someone new who says something like 'this may be a stupid question' and it is to dip their toe in the water, a bit self effacing maybe? ...anyway that usually draws the 'nice' approach that seems often to say 'there are no stupid questions' even though most of us are well aware that there are plenty of them.  

My anecdote was back when I was taking my loom to craft shows and demonstrating weaving alongside my handwoven things for sale.  
I was asked many many questions and had interesting discussions.

The stand out question though was someone who had been watching me weave, looked around and asked where I got all of my fabric...I guess that would be a 'stupid' question although more disconnected from their surroundings might better describe? or just mindless chat?

I tended to answer them all seriously at the time though as they were possible customers



 
John F Dean
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Hi Judith,

Maybe missed humor?  It sounds like a comment I might make to get a reaction.  My favorite deliberate stupid comment that I made was when my wife and I saw a group of 4th or 5th graders standing in front of a movie theater looking at a Juriasic Park poster.  We walked up behind them, and I commented to my wife, "But I heard they didn't use real dinosaurs."   My wife still comments on the looks I got as I walked away.

Going back to the original issue, normally I assume the question is being asked in good faith. And I answer it in good faith.  However, experience has taught me that questions can be asked for other reasons as well.  When I taught graduate classes there was always someone trying to prove to the world that they were smarter than me.....or asking the impossible question.  To invent one, assume this is a self defense class, "What would you do if 50 rabid bikers  on meth attacked you."
 
Judith Browning
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John F Dean wrote:Hi Judith,

Maybe missed humor?  It sounds like a comment I might make to get a reaction.  My favorite deliberate stupid comment that I made was when my wife and I saw a group of 4th or 5th graders standing in front of a movie studio looking at a Juriasic Park poster.  We walked up behind them, and I commented to my wife, "But I heard they didn't use real dinosaurs."   My wife still comments on the looks I got as I walked away.



Possibly, although not too likely as I live with that sort of humor from my other half and usually recognize it....this was in all seriousness and from what I remember they weren't really all that interested so might have been just trying to connect and make conversation.
 
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My favorite stupid question moment.  We were on a halibut fishing charter in Alaska.  Another group was on the boat with us.  As we're bobbing up and down on the ocean, the lady asks "So what's the elevation here?"
 
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I don't tolerate stupid, well - including my own - and I've heard a shit-ton of stupid questions. But, ignorance is a whole different ballgame. If I say someone is ignorant, I'm truly not calling them stupid - I'm just saying that they don't know that they don't know. Some folks don't see a difference, and get all pissy, if I've used the word ignorant, in reference to them, even if the context is gentle. I then explain to them (the same as to folks who preface a question to me with, 'this is a stupid question, but...') that the difference between ignorance and stupidity is that ignorance can be cured. Stupid, to me, either can't or refuses to be cured.
 
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John F Dean wrote: To invent one, assume this is a self defense class, "What would you do if 50 rabid bikers  on meth attacked you."



I taught self defense classes many years ago and I was often asked questions exactly like that.  My favorite, while I was explaining the concept of distancing, was "what are you going to do if someone sneaks up behind you and hits you in the head with a crowbar?".  I answered with "bleed" and continued on.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Trace,

I started out my work career in an on grounds school in corrections.  During my interview, I was asked a similar question  ... and I gave a similar answer.  I was hired, so I must have answered  correctly.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Carla,

I like to make the distinction between the "proudly ignorant" and the true innocents who simply lack the experience.  Then, there are the inexcusibly ignorant.   I once had a coworker crying to me about her teenage daughter being sexually assaulted by the womans ex during a visitation.  Of course, the girl was not sent on future visits .... but her younger sister was sent. Guess what happened?  Well, those visits stopped.  But the woman saw no problem sending their 8 year old son......  Well no, I was not a good source for sympathy.
 
paul wheaton
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It's a pleasure to see superheros taking such an interest in science. And this tiny ad:
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