During the recent post-Thanksgiving gathering of my wife’s family, my oldest son, Caleb, could frequently be heard answering questions regarding the Nov. 17 EF-4 tornado that struck Washington, Ill., where he lives.
Later, as we were making our way through the serving line, inquiries about the storm transformed into a general commentary by one couple regarding the media’s coverage of such disasters.
“It just gets me when someone will stick a microphone in someone’s face at a time like that and ask, ‘How do you feel?’” remarked one individual.
The person’s spouse restated the same scenario and added their disdain for such “stupid” questions.
That raises the question: Is there such a thing as a “stupid” question?
While I’m in the camp that believes it is possible to pose a dumb question, there are many who will tell you there is no such thing. Carl Sagan, in his “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,” wrote, “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.”
Colin Powell was quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers.”
A respondent in a Dear Abbey column wrote, “There is no such thing as a stupid question if it is sincere. Better to ask and risk appearing stupid than to continue on your ignorant way and make a stupid mistake.”
Some, however, suggest it is possible to ask stupid questions. The criteria is:
A) Those questions that have already been answered, but the asker wasn’t listening or paying attention.
B) Questions that can be answered with a scant amount of research and less than a minute of time.
C) Questions of which the answer should be painfully obvious to any person with a pulse who has lived on this earth for more than a decade.
Some consider a family gathering incomplete without engaging in a lively debate with someone over politics, sports, religion … you name it. That explains why such topics are taboo in some households when the clan comes together and why police are kept on speed dial in others.
Typically, I’m not inclined to challenge the opinions of family members at events such as Thanksgiving. I’ve learned such confrontations only raise the blood pressure and guarantee receiving the “stink eye” from the Mrs.
In this particular instance, I could have allowed the comments to slide. However, considering their commentary was delivered within ear-shot of a hard-working member of the media, it was at least insensitive and could easily be interpreted as a “shot across my bow.”
Page 2 of 2 - At the risk of starting a pie-flinging ruckus, I approached the two family members.
“As someone who has asked such a question, I’d like to offer my two cents,” I began.
I noted that such inquiries can seem “stupid” to the average person. However, as a journalist I may think I know the answer to such a dumb inquiry, but who wants to read my speculation? It’s much more powerful to hear from the person who has gone through a news-worthy experience.
“You might be surprised by what someone has to say following a crisis of some sort,” I noted. “They might express hopelessness, which could inspire a reader to take action to help. They could also offer a powerful testimony that might prove encouraging to someone who is going through a trial of some sort.”
Both conceded they had never thought of it from that perspective before.
While I wound never suggest that media members don’t ask stupid questions, I don’t believe asking someone how they feel falls in that category.