He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.Chinese Proverb

If you don't understand, then ask. You may seem foolish at the time, but you will learn the answer.

If you don’t understand, then ask. You may seem foolish at the time, but you will learn the answer.

What does that mean?
This, like most ancient proverbs, was difficult to source, but quite interesting to contemplate. In this case, we have all been there, right?

You have a question, but you’re afraid to ask it. You don’t want to look foolish, stupid, or inattentive in front of your peers. You say nothing, and having not asked, you never learn what you need to know.

Yes, you might get some grief for asking the question, but that sting soon wears off. You were a fool, but just for a short time. But if you did not ask, when would you have learned?

By not asking, you leave yourself a fool for the rest of your life. You had a chance to get the answer, but you let it pass. Perhaps you’ll learn later, but at how high a price? Fool for five, or fool forever?

Why are questions important?
I could ask a silly question at this point, but I think you can fill that in for yourself. Questions may not be the best way to learn some new skill or idea, but they are excellent for clarifying something about what you are learning which you do not quite understand, or have some concern about.

How does one pronounce that one word? That is a common question in foreign language classes, as there are usually many rules and many more exceptions with which to become familiar. You could learn then, in the classroom, or mispronounce it on the street, and get beat up for an unintended insult.

The same can be applied to other aspects of our lives. Any time we have a question, there is usually a reluctance to ask. Usually it’s because we are concerned about what others will think of us. Is it worth being a fool for life to impress others? I think not.

Besides, if you have a question, odds are that at least one other person has a similar question, or isn’t exactly certain about the answer. Your question isn’t just an indictment of your brilliance, it is a community service. Does that change your attitude towards asking a question?

Where can I apply this in my life?
Did you ever have someone thank you afterwards for having asked the question because they had it too, but were too afraid to ask? Or were you that person, thanking another for their willingness to ask? It does happen, or at least it has happened to me, and more than just a few times.

Personally, not being too concerned with what others think of me, I have little difficulty asking clarifying questions, and even basic questions. What is the difference? A clarifying question asks about an application or a specific portion of the idea being discussed. A basic question is about the fundamentals of what is being discussed.

A basic question about a sport might be related to how to hold a ball, or how to stand in the field. A clarifying question might be about how to react in a specific situation, or to disambiguate two rules which seem to contradict each other. Anyone want to explain the infield fly rule in American Baseball?

When I ask a question, I try to start by paraphrasing what was discussed, so the person I am asking can spot a fundamental error in my premise or assumptions. In short, I try to help them help me understand. If you just toss out a seemingly random question, others might think you a fool for a bit more than five minutes.

Can you think of a time when you were afraid to ask a question? Did your lack of understanding ever come back to haunt you? Did you end up learning the hard way? How foolish was that? No, that was not a rhetorical question, I want you to consider, honestly, how foolish it was to have not asked the question in the first place.

Sometimes, learning the hard way is a minor bump, and you’re on your way. Other times, it can be much harder to overcome. If someone thinks you understand, and asks you to demonstrate, there are times when you could end up hurting yourself or others. Again, how foolish is that?

Instead, I recommend you ask the question. Even if you wait until you are called on to demonstrate, ask then. Asking “Do I start this way, or that way?” could save you a trip to the hospital, or ten to fifteen minutes of being thought a fool, right? Again, how foolish was it to not ask earlier?

It won’t always be easy to ask the question, but you should try. Remember that you are doing this for your learning experience, and to enhance your knowledge. You aren’t doing it to impress others. You aren’t doing it to try to look smart or be cool. Failing to ask could put your future learning, or even your safety at risk. Ask.

My favorite response to the idea of a foolish question was this: “There are no foolish questions, except those unasked.” How would your life be different if you had always followed this advice? Are you willing to step forward and ask the question?

From: Twitter, @Sports_HQ
confirmed at : http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Chinese_proverbs second from bottom
Photo by Eric

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8 Responses to He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

  1. Lar Bowe 3 September 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    Working on a MOOC (online learning) where there are thousands of participants should make it easier to ask questions but I still find it very difficult in spite of the anonymity, it is strange is it not?

    • philosiblog 4 September 2015 at 10:19 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. And yes, it does sound strange (at least compared to what is ‘normal’ for the internet).

      That said, is it because you are afraid of giving offense, or because you are that timid? If it is the former, there are ways to be polite even in anonymous circumstances (such as the internet or large chat room). If it is the former, I hope that you can find ways to be slightly more bold each day, each week, until you can feel free to ask a question whenever you are puzzled. To not ask is to remain uninformed and to remain frustrated.

  2. vontoast 2 September 2015 at 12:22 am #

    The more questions we ask the more we realise we don’t know. It’s a long enjoyable journey.

    • philosiblog 2 September 2015 at 10:09 pm #

      Indeed it is. Or as someone else once said, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” And it continues to be.

      And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  3. Charity Aideyan 1 September 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    I love it a lot.Thanks

    • philosiblog 1 September 2015 at 11:20 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by, and for leaving such a kind comment.

  4. hydguy 1 September 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    How to ask a question which contradicts what the speaker is saying; you don’t want to correct because you think you might offend him/her? Perhaps stay back after the class/speech/meeting to clarify?

    • philosiblog 1 September 2015 at 11:20 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a question.

      I would start by being non-confrontational, with something like
      “I had heard from a friend that (contradictory statement). Can you explain it to me so that I can pass on the information?” or
      “I thought that (contradictory statement) was the case.” followed by “What did I miss?” or “Can you help me understand?”

      Of course, as you mention, the fewer people are present, the less threatening a question would be. However, if you have a question, probably someone else has one as well. For their sake as well as yours, if you think you can ask the question tactfully, it benefits many, instead of just one. Something you might want to consider. 8)

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