Have you ever called yourself stupid for not knowing something that you, or someone else, thought you should know? Did anyone ever say something like this to you, with an incredulous tone: “YOU don’t know what _____ is?” What my fragile ego heard about 25 years ago in response to this question was, “If you don’t know that, you’re an idiot!” After gathering myself, I gave a simple and honest reply that made me feel confident: “I’m sorry…but no, I don’t know what that is…please tell me.”

Having the upper hand, the questioner softened his tone, which was fine with me because he knew something I didn’t. I recall that it was he—and not I—who had made a big deal out of having a ninth grade education, which was my father’s highest education level. Two graduate degree programs didn’t teach me all I ever needed to know. My father was a successful man whose street level wisdom funded my classroom education. My questioner was a talented artist who knew plenty that I didn’t know. But his tone revealed how little he knew about how much I respected him and his work.

When he honored my request to tell me what I didn’t know, my transition from not knowing to knowing took less than a minute. There was a useful takeaway for me from that one interaction. For the past 25 years, I have frequently repeated this mantra: We are all naive—about something—until we’re not.

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