Never not know something

May 6, 2018

It’s perfectly alright to inquire about things you aren’t aware of

Never not know something

At a recent family gathering, someone asked me, "So which political party are you going to vote for?" I laughed, as if to say, "Why are you even bothering asking me? It’s all so ridiculous anyway, isn’t it?"

And I gave a response that appeared to be a very solid stance on the current politics of the country: that its utter nonsensicality makes me absolutely indifferent to it. It was just the tone of my voice and assured expression on my face that convinced him of what I said I felt.

Truthfully, I am indifferent to supporting a particular party but not because I believe politics to be an utter mess; it’s simply because I don’t know anything about it to have an informed opinion. If somebody asks me right now about whether someone sits in the prime minister’s seat in the aftermath of Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, I would not have any inkling about it. In fact, to begin with, I suspect it’s quite a stupid question to ask. Shouldn’t it be obvious?

Actually, it’s not stupid. I genuinely don’t know. And it’s perfectly alright to inquire about things you aren’t aware of.

What stops me from asking questions about topics that are assumed to be common knowledge is the overtone in people’s voice that says, "How can you not know about this? Do you not watch the news? Or read newspapers? Or live in this country?" This shaming, which is experienced more often than not, does nothing more than discourage the questioner.

But the more concerning part of this is the shame that one imposes on themselves. Just a while ago, I was wondering about what happened to the Pakistan prime minister’s seat and simultaneously considering my own void of knowledge as a sign of stupidity. Nobody had to do that for me. On the contrary, I shouldn’t have felt insecure about simply not knowing it.

It’s an insecurity that is common to the millennials. Being one myself, it tremendously interests me to understand how and why my generation behaves the way it does (yes, you can call paying close attention to my own generation as collective narcissism).

One prominent feature that stands out amongst me and my peers is this mad race to not just know but to know more than the other person. Either be at par with or ahead of them, all the time. Learn a little something from all disciplines of life. Always have a ready opinion. Never not know something, especially if it is information that’s widely available; that would mean you’re just plain lazy, indifferent, and lack ambition. You have lost the race.

This self-pressuring and constant comparison with the other person(s) is perhaps why the millennials are more susceptible to feeling inferior when they don’t have an answer (side note: the previous generation also feels inferior when it compares itself to the millennials, and is more than willing to announce that it is extremely unaware of most things in life).

Here’s the first step to leave this hamster-wheel: acknowledge that you don’t know. It’s an ordinary three-word phrase: I don’t know. And it embarrasses us to the core to say it out loud. But it shouldn’t. Why? Because it’s human to not know about everything. It’s equally human to put forth a question.

Ironically, the preceding sentences aren’t revelations I have brought you; these notions are more common knowledge than, say, what the capital of Canada is. And yet, a lot of people fail to grasp its reality. This is what they should truly know. But they don’t.

While not knowing about something is not a mental disorder, the effects it has on an individual is surely a mental state of being that requires acceptance before you move onto a possible solution. This acceptance also teaches you humility and maturity.

It’s good to openly ask questions, especially if it’s on politics where you can play an active role -- one that also affects your life in return. I, for one, would like to know more about who is contesting in the upcoming general elections and what their credentials are.

Most people are just pretending to know a lot about what is being talked about than they actually do -- just like I was faking being up to date with my relative. Nobody is ready to say, "Hey, I honestly have never read anything about Michael Jackson despite however incredibly famous he was, and I can’t even name a single song of his. Why don’t you tell me?"

What I know for sure, though, is that the solution is simple: ask. And you shall know.

Never not know something