I’m very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited (so excuse all errors) flash mob free-write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let’s see where the word “question” takes me.

“There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” 

In fact, according to Carl Sagan: 

“There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.” (The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark)

Mr. Sagan may have been famous for his keen intelligence, for his brilliant mind, but he totally missed the boat on this.

Yes, Virginia, there IS such a thing as a dumb question. We’re all guilty of asking them, and we’ve all rolled our eyes either visibly or internally when someone poses one to us.

Let me give you an example. One day two weeks ago, my realtor put a “For Sale” sign in my front yard. Bright and early the next morning, when I went out to get the paper from my driveway, a neighbor walking his dog paused and asked, “Are you selling your house?” 

No, I didn’t roll my eyes (well, at least not visibly). I simply smiled and said “yes, I am”. The man nodded and continued on his way. 

As a teacher, I was often asked dumb questions. Now, parents, before you get all huffy, you know your kids ask you dumb questions all the time. But let me give you just one example. Imagine the classroom. On the board is the assignment that clearly says: DUE at the BEGINNING of CLASS on FRIDAY. The same is printed at the top of the assignment sheet, and I have just said (more than once), “Remember, this is due at the beginning of class on Friday.”

We all know what’s coming. Yes, some student will raise his or her hand and ask, “When is this due?”

That is a dumb question. Period. 

Sagan might try to put a shiny veneer on it, call it what he likes, but it’s a ridiculous question. It is not a “cry to understand the world”. 

And that’s not the only myth we perpetuate by telling them to our children, posting them in memes on social media, trotting them out as truth to support a point we’re trying to make.  

There is such a thing as a dumb question.

50% of marriages do not end in divorce.

Mother Teresa did not write the poem “Anyway” (also known as the “Paradoxical Commandments”). *

The list goes on and on. 

Truth be told, I’ve asked my fair share of dumb questions. I’ve had people roll their eyes at me or sigh in disgust or resignation.

Why do we do it? Why do we repeat so-called truths without thought, without questioning their validity? Why do we do that at a time when, with google and in 2 minutes, we can check their validity before sharing? 

I don’t know. But I do know that we’re better than that. 
Or, at least, we should be. 

*”Anyway” was written by Kent Keith when he was a sophomore at Harvard. It was published under his name there in 1968, long before Mother Teresa hung the poem in her room at Calcutta.