“There is No Such Thing as a Dumb Question!”

By Robbin Laird

When one teaches as I have done, you are often told that no matter how bizarre a student’s question, one does not treat it as a stupid one.  You are taught to distinguish the person from the question, in order not to lower the student’s self esteem and impede their ability to learn.

But as we all know, there are some really stupid questions.  And we all have asked them.

When I was teaching in New York City, a student towards the end of the Vietnam War asked “Has there ever been a war before Vietnam?”

An interesting thought but from the atmosphere at the time – the early 1970s – one could have concluded such a point, so I learned that if you were just LIVING at that time and simply BREATHED the intellectual air of the time, one might reach such a conclusion.

But we consulted Boomer about his experience in Washington.  “What does one do, Boomer, if a policy maker asks a very stupid question? How do you help them to learn, say during the ritual called HEARINGS on the Hill?”

Boomer commented: “You have to understand politicians and particularly Congressmen.  To live they must talk; they must show their anger and that they care for something called “their constituents.”  Constituents are those who live in something called Districts.  The Districts are where the folks who provide the Congressmen with their livelihood live.

And the Congressmen want to show passion, anger and talk in support of their CONSTITUENTS.”

Well what do you do if you are in an Administration, or are an EXPERT giving “testimony” to these folks and they ask a very stupid question?

Boomer: “You must never take the time to completely answer the question because you might become angry or confuse the person who asked the question.  It is crucial to simply show GRACE under fire and win the battle of WITS by not playing the game.”

Do you have a good example of Grace Under Fire, Boomer?

Boomer: “Well one of the best recent examples was done by a Navy Admiral.  Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, wins an award for providing grace under fire.”

How so Boomer?

“Well he was explaining to a group of folks on the Hill who are supposed to be providing oversight and expert review what the nature of threats and capabilities needed to deal with these threats are.  And in explaining what the US Navy was doing, he explained that they were using island bases as part of their approach.  And one such island is called Guam.  And he explained what they were putting on Guam to able them to deal with the US bankers known as the Chinese.”

What did these folks ask the Admiral?

“Well one of these folks after hearing the Admiral patiently explain what the US Navy was doing, said “My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”

Wow   !  This is an idea whose time had come apparently, putting more stuff on the island with a larger population say of Marines could lead to the island tipping over and perhaps breaking off and floating into the US ATMS Giant Machines located in something called China.

Boomer: “You have got to admit if you were the Admiral you might not expect that question. Imagine the Admiral showering that morning and thinking: I am going to talk to my political masters today and what might they ask?  I’d bet he hadn’t thought of that one!  So what did he do?  Well, he drew in his breath and said:  “We don’t anticipate that.”

“Now you have to admit that the Congressmen asked a stupid question.  But the Admiral did not even hint at that.

He responded so that he could play another day.  He gets my award for how to show Grace in the presence of dealing with one’s political masters.”

So Boomer has given us an important lesson in understanding one aspect of life on the Banks of the Patawomeck. So we have learned how to deal with the great counselors who gather in the doomed build on a hill, when they occasionally slip.  Show grace under fire.



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