Stupid Questions


People often seem to be quite hesitant or embarrassed about asking questions.  It seems like every day, someone will come up to me and preface a really good question with, “I know this may be stupid… ” or “Sorry to bother you, but….”  In general, the person will follow by asking something that’s worrisome, or troubling, or interesting, or provocative.  It’s rarely stupid or bothersome.

StupidQuestionsIn fact, I remember teachers saying that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.  I think that was probably to encourage us students to ask questions, which is, I think, generally a good thing.  No reason to be embarrassed if you don’t know something, and, after all, if you don’t ask, how are you going to learn?

That said, I’m not completely sold on the idea that there’s never such a thing as a stupid question.  I think that there are some questions that could be classified as “stupid,” or, to be politically correct, questions that reflects an insurmountable intellectual challenge on the part of the questioner, or at least a lack of previous thought. That’s not to say that questions are intentionally stupid, but still, sometimes, certain questions make a reasoned response challenging.

For example, I was standing on the street vaccinating horses one Sunday when a heretofore-unknown person came up and commented that I seemed to work rather often.  I thanked her for her gracious and concerned observation, and I continued to poke horses with sharp objects.  But she persisted.

“What are your hours, anyway?” she queried.

“I try to work Tuesday through Sunday, and Mondays are for emergencies only,” I replied.  [Note:  This may not reflect my current policy, which can vary depending on things like baseball games and school plays, dinner reservations, movie times, magic shows, etc.].

Nodding, but still a bit puzzled, she asked:  “How do you get all of your emergencies on Monday?”

It’s not often that I’m completely stupefied by a question, but that one did it.  As much as I would like to train all of my clients’ horses to have their emergencies only on Monday, I haven’t been able to get that done.  That said, keeping one’s composure under such circumstances can be challenging:  I mean, laughing in someone’s face is rude, right?  Nevertheless, I did not guffaw, although, I must confess, it did take a few days for the soreness in my bitten lip to resolve. Over time, when confronted with certain situations again and again, one gets good at composure-keeping.

StupidQuestions.2Still, most questions aren’t stupid, and the more you ask, the more you generally know.  And I think that the best person to ask about something is someone who knows more than you do about a subject.  When it comes to knowing things about your horse, your veterinarian is supposed to know more than you do:  so ask.

NOTE:  I would like to point out that your veterinarian is also supposed to know more than the person in the stall next door, or your Uncle Tony’s friend from Bar Harbor who kept horses a few years back, too.  And here’s one good reason why you should always ask important questions of someone with expertise:  no matter whom you ask a question of, you’ll generally get an answer.  And even though there are not generally stupid questions, there are certainly plenty of wrong answers.

ONE OTHER THING: Don’t just ask for an answer, ask how the person knows the answer.  There’s a whole field devoted to just that question; it’s called epistemology, which is the study of knowledge, that is, the study of knowing how we know (CLICK HERE if you’d like to delve way deep into that topic).  If someone can answer a question with not only what he or she knows, but also how he or see knows it, it will tell you a lot about the quality of the answer.

Anyway, horses do all sorts of curious and interesting things, many of which puzzle even those who are supposed to understand them.  The only way that you’re going to learn anything is by asking.  If you’re worried about something – even if you’re worried that it may be trivial – ask.  Serious problems can start with small changes in behavior; big icebergs often only have little tips of ice showing on the surface.  And don’t be surprised if the answer doesn’t completely clear up your question:  no one knows everything, and some problems have not been fully worked out.  Or, as one wag noted, “Experts don’t know either, but at a higher level.”

H.L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken

Oh, and don’t necessarily be satisfied just because you’ve gotten an answer to your question.  There many not be many stupid questions, but there are LOTS of stupid answers.  Many problems related to horse health are extremely complex, and, frankly, answers can be difficult.  Still, simple answers to complex questions as disarmingly – and frustratingly – persuasive.  In that regard, one of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the American writer, scholar, and critic Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken, who was one of the most influential figures of the first half of the twentieth century.  Mencken noted, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

Anyway, it’s not unreasonable for you to consider asking your veterinarian a question from time to time.  Honestly, I think that most of us really appreciate questions, because, among other reasons, it lets us know that you’re paying attention.  Seriously, though, you shouldn’t ever be afraid of asking your veterinarian questions, and for goodness sakes, don’t worry about us thinking that you’re stupid.  And if you want more information, ask for a second opinion:  it never hurts.

And if a question is truly stupid, don’t worry, we won’t laugh.  We make enough stupid mistakes of our own to balance out the questions anyway.

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