The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute.

The man who does not ask, is a fool for life.

— Confucius

ID-10036921 asking questions
Image courtesy of digitalart at


One of the things that irritates me beyond belief is when someone (always a family member like my husband) neglects to take me into consideration when they are doing or buying something for themselves, and in response to my (slightly annoyed) query they say:

“I didn’t know what you wanted.”

Yes, I know this sounds selfish and petty, but if I happen to be at the shops and feel like an ice cream or something else sweet I always, without fail purchase something for my husband and kids. Even if they aren’t going to be at home when I get there. I know what they like, and if it isn’t exactly what they want it will still be appreciated and consumed.

There are variations on this statement: I didn’t know you wanted one; I didn’t know what you’d like; I didn’t think you’d want one. But my response is the same:

“Why didn’t you ask me?”

At worst, you will have wasted your time asking because I don’t want whatever it is anyway. But, at least you will have asked and that act in itself scores brownie points.

As I said, this example may seem a rather petty one, but sometimes it is the small things, the small considerations, that count the most in life. (Then again, this has also happened once or twice on my birthday in long past years — unforgiveable and not forgotten.)

I am in (nearly) total agreement with Confucius. (I will expand on the ‘nearly’ bit later.)

It is so much better to ask a question than to not.

Too often, I have sat in a class (as a student), or in a workshop or meeting, wanting to ask a question about something I don’t quite understand. Inevitably I end up not asking because, for some stupid reason, I figure everyone else would know the answer and that I’m the only one who doesn’t.

Or, sometimes I fret so much about asking it that, by the time I build the courage to open my mouth, the moment has long passed and we’ve moved on to a completely different subject.

You may look and feel a bit silly at the time you ask the question, but in the long run if you don’t know something, and don’t find out, you are going to look and feel much, much sillier further down the track.

For this reason, I try to encourage my students, and my own children, to ask questions or, at the very least, to admit if they don’t understand something. It is one of the hardest things to do in a group situation — I have not yet mastered the skill myself — but it is, without a doubt, absolutely worth it.

Last year I worked with a colleague, team-teaching in her Mathematics class. This was the ‘bottom group’ and many of the children had low self-confidence when it came to their ability in the subject. I set myself a goal to boost their confidence as without the ‘I can do this’ feeling their results were not going to change.

As a group, we talked a lot about the benefits of admitting when you didn’t understand. My colleague and I also openly encouraged the asking of questions. Our mantra was ‘there is no such thing as a silly question’. We also pointed out that for every person who asked a question, there would be many more who also wanted to ask the same question, but didn’t feel confident enough to do so.

Before long we had a proactive group of students who were taking responsibility for their own learning by:

♦ being alert to when they didn’t understand

♦ indicating they needed help

♦ asking questions.

It was at this point they started to feel good about Maths and their results started to improve.

For us, these successful outcomes were amazing. But the pride we felt for these kids was even better!

So, asking questions is a really good thing.

We should encourage the asking of questions.

We should embrace asking and being asked questions … except in one situation (apologies to Confucius); this is the time question-askers need to be knocked on the head with a brick. Why? They make everyone else frustrated and, ultimately, keep us all from doing more worthwhile things — like going home at the end of a long day.

These are the people who don’t listen in meetings. It is obvious they don’t listen because at some point they will inevitably ask a question which has already been asked and answered, or ask a question about something that was just explicitly explained in terms an infant could understand.

These are not questions asked because of lack of understanding, they are asked owing to lack of listening. Worse still, sometimes I have a sneaking suspicion they are asked because the asker likes the sound of their own voice.

These questions do little more than paint the asker as a fool and a time waster.

My plea to everyone out there (including myself):

Ask questions, ask lots of questions …

… but only if you have been listening actively.







One thought on “questions

  1. I can really understand your comments about nicknames, Kellie/Kell!! It is a particularly South American custom to shorten names/to create nicknames. My husband, Leonardo, is known by his South American family connections as ‘Nardo’ and his sister, Elena as ‘Nani’. Leo’s mother was known as ‘The Vieja’ (old lady) while I have been given the name of ‘The Gringa’ (the female stranger).
    As far as I’m concerned, there are infinite ways to show affection that do no include ‘nicknames’.
    However, maybe we should keep the words of our English playwright guru, William Shakespeare, in mind:
    ‘What’s in a name?’ A name by any other name would sound as sweet!’
    Janet (Jan)

    Liked by 1 person

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