Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The phrase we dare not speak!

Is it a real memory or a false memory? I am almost convinced it’s a real memory: that in the former era of my youth people would dare to say it aloud. And it was fairly common:

“I don’t know.”

Is anyone still reading? Or did I scare everyone away with these most vulgar of words?

I’m sure it used to happen over and over again. One person would ask a question. “What does a hen weigh?” or “Do you know what time the bus comes?”

And the other person would say “I don’t know.” And as astounding as it seems, this was socially acceptable. The first person would appreciate the second person’s honesty, and then immediately get on with their life, and pursue the course of action appropriate to this not-unexpected circumstance, the inquirer seeing oneself as a mentally competent individual capable of proceeding with their endeavour in a manner independent of the missing link, or else with another plan for discovering it.

As with other antiquated norms, I am not eager to let this go. I still like to think that it’s okay to ask a quick question on the chance that my associates might know the answer, before proceeding to Google if they don’t, or making due without the errant factoid. I am not ready to make Google my bestest friend.

But this rarely goes well. It seems to have become unbearable in this culture of (mis)information-bombardment to appear as less than all-knowing. And so “I don’t know” situations turn into a lengthy charade where the questioned imagines they see beyond the question and insists on solving an imaginary version of the problem, and then the asker must humour the asked so as to coddle a fragile ego, and no one gets to get on with their life.

“Oh - uh - you should bend your knees to pick up the hen.”

“Right, yeah. Well I don’t actually need to pick one up…”

“You could always put the hen on the bus instead of shipping it. It’s one price for the bus. It doesn’t matter what it weighs.”

“Well, I wasn’t really going t-”

“Or just ship it while it’s young, before it gains much weight.”

“Okay…. Thanks.”

I still tend to say “I don’t know” when I don’t know, and trust that the inquirer will not die from awkwardness, and that they feel welcome to ask further questions on the subject if there is still a chance I can be useful.

I may be alone on this but I still insist: It’s okay not to know everything.

Okay. Thanks for listening to my little rant. You can go get on with your life now.

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