In attempts to make children more at ease in a classroom setting, teachers often cling to the phrase, “There are no stupid questions.” And while a teacher may grit her teeth in disbelief when one of her pupils asks what year the War of 1812 took place, the idea behind the saying is generally solid and greatly reassuring. In essence, the confused and vastly curious student is encouraged to participate in the discussion regardless of potential scrutiny and inward derision, a profoundly positive phenomenon. However, just because I believe that there are no stupid questions doesn’t mean there aren’t questions you shouldn’t ask me.
Confusing? Allow me to explain. While all questions serve to expand the knowledge of the asker to some extent, they can also be used to convey an indirect message to the recipient. For instance: “Did you get enough sleep last night?”
I loathe this question with a passion. Having received it several times in the past, it always treat it with a mixture of surprise and suppressed consternation. It’s not as if I’m making a grand display of my morning fatigue, dragging my feet across the floor and habitually swaying. I’m just a little tired, slightly slower than I am usually. My thoughts may be somewhat fogged. My enthusiasm and energy somewhat dull and absent.
Yet in spite of the obvious symptoms, you must seek to confirm your suspicions and ask me the dreaded question: Did you get enough sleep last night? Hearing the words, I inwardly cringe. Now, not only do I need to deal with this burdensome tiredness, but also with the fact that I look terrible.
My eyes must be bloodshot. I must have had the same lifeless expression plastered to my face for the past hour. I must seem like a veritable zombie. The only thing I need to do now is hold my arms out and groan, “BRAAAAAAAAINS”.
Looking back at the original question, one might say that it’s an innocent expression of concern for the recipient. That the asker simply wants the other person to know that he is perceptive of the symptoms of tiredness and genuinely cares for his well-being.
But as the grouchy and sleep-deprived people that we are, the last thing we want is to have our exhaustion announced and confirmed by those around us. We simply need to get through our day as painlessly as possible before we can put an end to our suffering by crashing or dousing ourselves in coffee. To the witnesses of our habitual periods of fatigue, please bear with us. A comforting pat on the back, a cup of coffee, some well-meaning knock-knock jokes, or anything else polite and reassuring should do it. But please for the life of us, do not ask us how much sleep we received the previous night.