“I didn’t want to show my ignorance” – that’s the wrong road for an intelligent young woman to travel.
Showing ignorance is how we learn, it’s how we get strangers to tell us their stories, it’s how we experience the world fully.
False sophistication – putting on a cool knowingness – is the road to ignorance. You should never be afraid to say, “What is that?” No need to preface it with an apology. I say this from bitter experience, Sarah.
I wasted some of the best years of my life in pretending to a worldly sophistication that stopped my education right in its tracks. Even today, people looking at me imagine that I know all sorts of things that in fact I’m stupid about. […]
Remember this little life lesson, Sarah. Some of the great journalists of our time have found that nothing works so well in gathering information as a display of ignorance.
You know that feeling in a conversation when someone has casually mentioned a word/topic/event and you have not a clue what he or she is talking about? Do you smile and bob your head, hoping that illumination is just around the corner and will arrive in time to rescue you? Or do you ask for an explanation or clarification?
I’d guess I’ve wasted three decades bobbing and bluffing my way through life.
At my twentieth high school reunion a guy approached me with exuberant pleasure. He called my name out from a distance and bounded over like a gazelle. It’s not that I didn’t recognize the man he’s become. I didn’t know the yearbook picture on his name tag. His name did not ring a bell. But he’s talking about sitting next to me in World History. After a second look at his name tag, I arranged my face into a smile. “John! How’ve you been?” I exclaimed, while inside I frantically shuffled my mental rolodex: who is this guy?who is this guy?who is this guy?
I have learned the most in a bluff-free life from a lovely friend who is blessed with charming simplicity. Whenever I use a word she doesn’t know, she simply says “I don’t know that word. What does that mean?” No apology, no pretending, just a question. It is so refreshing.
I have learned from her ignorance so much more than she learned from my intelligence.