If you don't know, say so!
A fourteen year old girl goes to a hop. A boy a few years older than her tries to pick her up:
``Are you a virgin?'' he asks. Our fourteen year old is of course quite properly innocent of
these matters, but she does at least know that either `virgin' means that you have done it,
or that you haven't - but she has no idea which. Oh yes, she also knows that she has no
intention of going to bed with him: that much is clear. Intending to send a strongly negative
message, she folds her arms and says, very firmly, `No!' lest anyone get the wrong idea.
I have this first-hand from the fourteen-year old in question, years later.
One could not ask for a better example of the kind of trouble one gets into by pretending one
knows something one doesn't. I always tell my students that, when they start teaching, and a
student asks them a question to which they do not know the answer, they should say so. Your
students can tell perfectly well if you are flailing around in the dark, and they won't respect
you for trying to conceal the fact..
And that's not the only reason. By acknowledging to them something they already believe to
be true, you are validating their judgement; by admitting an error you show yourself to be
big enuff to own up, and you earn their respect. Further, there is no point in even attempting to
nurture in them the illusion that their teachers know everything (!).

Incidently, on this subject of admitting that you don't know, has it ever struck you, Dear Reader,
that it is precisely the things about which we are most uncertain [and about which we should
therefore be the least censorious] about which we are in fact the most dogmatic? The errors
for whose commission humans are the most willing to murder other humans are precisely the
errors which it is easiest to make? And they all concern religion? Why is it that religious people
- unlike the rest of us - cannot simply admit that they haven't a clue?
The great mystery of the human condition is that our whole access to mother nature is through
stuff which - according to materialism - is a mere epiphenomenon. About this great - fundamental
mystery religion has nothing whatever to say - let alone anything authoritative.

Oh let us never never doubt
what nobody is sure about.



Click here for last week's bon mot
Click here for next week's bon mot

Return to Thomas Forster's home page