When I was still studying in the lyceum (long long time ago), we had the so-called “Day of Shadows” when we could arrange to go and spend a day with any businessman, politician or other known person we wanted. I chose, together with 4 others, to be the “shadow” of the CEO of a large factory in Latvia. The idea of the day was that we had to follow the guy around, see all his daily activities and ask any question we wanted. I was 16. I always had a lot of good questions in my head. I still do, but nowadays I have no problems asking them anymore. However, back then my level of self-doubt was way too high. I still remember that day, walking around the factory, looking at all those people work. I wanted to know for example “What do you do if one of the machines breaks down but you need to deliver goods ordered?” Yet, I didn’t ask that question. I thought it was too silly. Probably they will get somebody to fix it fast, or something else. Then we moved to the packaging department and I thought: “Hmm… If the factory produces different types of packaged goods, but there is only one machine that does the packaging, how do you make the packaging different?” I didn’t ask that question either. I had a lot of good questions popping up in my head, but I did not ask a single one of them. Why? Because I thought that my questions were way too stupid to be asked. Other teens who were with me that day also largely remained silent, occasionally asking something which I thought to be obvious.
It was only at the very end of the day, when we were already almost going out of the factory, that I dared to open my mouth and ask the CEO guy something like: “What is the most difficult part of your work – to set everything up or to ensure that people keep it the way you envisioned?“. I considered this question also not really worthy of asking, but decided to give it a try especially because the CEO was persistently looking into my eyes. I remember that when I finally asked that question, the CEO smiled at me and replied that:
“The most difficult task I have is to ensure that people like you, who obviously have some bright things to say, actually open their mouth and speak up!”
He told me that asking questions is a part of learning and I should always dare to ask. He told me that the worst you can get if you ask is no answer, but that is something that you already have. And finally, by asking questions you are also showing that you are listening, that you are thinking along, that you care. That small conversation in the hallway of a factory 15 years ago left a lasting impression on me.
They say that there are never stupid questions, there are stupid answers. Although this is a dubious statement, it has its point. It is OK to ask. It is OK not to know something. It is OK even to sound stupid. Since that day if something is unclear, I ask; if I don’t know but wonder, I ask; even in order to sustain a conversation, I ask, showing my companion that I am truly interested.
Asking is an important means of learning. Now we have a toddler that is already for a while drilling us with her “why this, why that?”. Even though it is horribly annoying at times, I try to remind myself that it is only by asking that we learn. And then (in 95% of cases) I breathe out and explain time and time again why does she have to go to school, why did papa go to work, why are we eating sandwiches, why she needs to drink water, why… She is learning, she is learning, she is learning (facepalm).