“Stupid Question”

Posted by jlubans on October 28, 2022


Whenever I use kitchen plastic wrap I am reminded of a long ago incident when a staff member reacted in a negative way to a simple request from me.
I edited something called the Suggestion/Answer Book. It was an open book, literally, and clients could write in it for all to see their questions, compliments and complaints. (If you want to know more about it, you might find this article of interest.)
In any case, the student client asked “Why does plastic wrap cling?”* The staffer to whom I sent the question rejected it, saying it was a stupid question, one deserving a stupid answer. I assume her rejection was the stupid answer.**
Her humorless response forfeited the opportunity to engage a client in a positive way.
As always, a “stupid question” can open the door to a “teachable moment” and more.
Another staff member to whom I sent questions made the most of each; it never crossed her mind to think a question was not worth answering. If it did, she resisted the temptation to ridicule.
For her, each question was a spring board to opening the doors to more information – just the right amount – and she would invite the reader to tag along in the process of getting to an answer. She never talked down, was always level-headed and respectful.
Her answer was a pedagogical tool to not just the questioner but to the many who read her response.
In over 3000 questions/suggestions I avoiding sarcasm in my answers.
I believed it would turn off readers.
In my run as the Answer Person with hundreds of my previous responses on display in a very public three ring binder, the user knew action would be taken to fix bad policies and procedures, or if no action were taken, the reader would be told why.
And, importantly, I deliberately edited my responses to be welcoming, and, as often as not, wry and whimsical.
My style of humor added, it seems, the right touch to keep passing readers interested, amused and coming back for more.
That tone also assured the reader no comment or question would be dismissed as “stupid” – a not unusual anxiety on a campus brimming at times with an intellectual hubris that could infect any full-of-herself librarian.
But it did happen; as kitchen wrap never fails to remind me.
Rube Goldberg, back in the early 1900s had a regular newspaper comic strip; he called it Foolish Questions, and provided zany, madcap answers. Here are a couple for your entertainment
Women in apron to man puffing away on an immense stogie:
“Anthony, are you smoking again?”
The smoker responds: “No, Cleopatra, I’m taking a bath in a bowl of clam chowder.”
Silly but not a brutal, dismissive put down. Might even bring a smile to Cleo's face.
Another cartoon by Rube has a man in loudly checkered pants asking a bald friend chasing something:
“Did your wig blow off?”
Baldy responds, “No, I’m chasing butterflies for my coin collection!”
More zany than acidulous, there is an essence of silly humor there.
More recently the satirical magazine, Mad, offered “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.
An example: A woman, looking at a ceiling dripping with water, asks the plumber “Is that from a leaking pipe?”
Plumber offers three responses:
“No, it’s from someone watering their lawn upstairs”.
“No, your house is crying because you are so stupid
“No, the water is coming from a basement in China.”
That's supposed to be humor; it’s not. It’s churlish, and boorish. Al Jaffee, the illustrator and author explained: While going through a divorce, “I got a lot of my hostility out through Snappy Answers.”
Had I done that in the S/A book, the readership would have disappeared and I would have spent my time battling nasty comments, like in the anonymous Twitter-sphere.

*In case you were wondering
Why does clingfilm cling? The Internet provides an answer:
“Most cling wrap is made of one of two materials; polyvinyl chloride or low-density polyethylene. Both of these are long polymers - chains of molecules. These chains cling to each other very well. In fact, the polymers in polyvinyl chloride are so bound together that they do not let water or air get through them. The military used to spray "Saran," the early name of the chemical, on fighter planes to prevent corrosion. It was also used in upholstery. To make it suitable for home use, companies add platicisers to make it softer and more malleable.”

**I was bewildered by her response. Among the 200 in this organization I rated her among the top 5 or 6. Early on we worked well together, but now I did sense a growing antipathy towards me, but never figured out what or why. Not long after this incident, she and her professor husband departed for another university, presumably for greener pastures.

My book, Fables for Leaders, full of whimsy, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

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Posted by jlubans on October 30, 2022  •  05:07:05

testing to see if this functions

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