No Such Thing as a Stupid Question

Many people have heard the proverb, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”

While the strict meaning might be debated by some people, many people embrace the underlying sentiment that humans are creatures of limited knowledge. Everybody is ignorant. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge and not stupidity. Ignorance is curable with patience and coaching. Asking questions is a common way to learn.

A challenge these days is many people ignore the wisdom of that sentiment. Especially in online discussion forums where arrogance and ego often dominate conversations. In such environments there are people who are quick to pounce on people, to prove them wrong, or argue the poster suffers from XY problems. Such people seem incapable of just answering the question and be content to let life move on.

I worked many years as a tech writer. Communicating is challenging, especially with writing where common communication cues do not exist, such as facial expressions and body “language.” Emoticons are supposed to be an effort to help communicate, but some forum rules discourage or limit usage. In such forums people are left guessing the intent of a person trying to communicate.

Communicating requires patience, especially online and with any form of writing. Patience is a virtue that seems to have disappeared in these online conversations.

Many people communicate with presumptions about other people and the meaning of words. Many people fail to actually read what a person wrote. Many refuse to consider meaning and intent.

Many online forums require English as the posting language. Many people do not speak or write English natively. Such attempts to communicate are less than optimal and everybody involved needs patience.

Asking questions from a foundation of ignorance is challenging and sometimes just plain hard. That leads into the conundrum of, “How do people who do not know discover they do not know?”

In computer forums a common reply is linking to How to Ask Questions the Smart Way. Many people find such replies insulting. Probably rightfully so. People asking sincere questions are seeking answers to frustrating problems. People want help. They do not want preaching.

To some degree, asking “smart questions” presumes a foundation knowledge that often a person does not possess.

People who pompously reply to learn to ask smart questions or to search online are not helping anybody. Accusing people of XY problems is not helping or coaching but soap-boxing.

People who volunteer to help online should be patient and generous. Unassuming.

Humans are social creatures. Often people ask questions online as a social gesture rather than laziness. There is no reason to respond with malice or cruelty. Engaging in a simple conversation need not be hostile.

For three decades I have been helping computer users online and have sought my own share of help. I have observed that some people who master a few computer skills tend to forget their own shortcomings and original lack of knowledge. They tend to become pompous and act in a superior manner.

There are people who seem to be naturally arrogant, narcissistic, and egotistical. Such people commonly denigrate rather than help.

Asking questions online in such hostile environments is no fun and discouraging.

Always start with a foundation that communicating is hard. Do not be quick to judge. Remember that at one time the same knowledge did not exist between your own ears. Life tends to become a tad more easier that way.

Recently I found myself on the short end of the stick and experienced this immature and hostile wrath. That I carefully explained myself was irrelevant. Every respondent failed or refused to read my explanation in context. Respondents pounced. I was declared an idiot.

The continual toxicity and lack of patience is exhausting and demoralizing. Avoiding computer forums for a while is a healthy approach. I am sad about that because I enjoy helping people with computer problems.

Posted: Category: Commentary Tagged: General

Next: Googer Teller

Previous: Dramatic Wireless Improvement