Old-Fashioned Wisdom: Go Ahead, Ask a "Dumb Question"

And now for something different, because this blog isn’t just for bragging about our travel.

We don’t travel a lot, anyway. We are busy people and most of our money goes back into the shop (or to finance kids in college). I’ve only been on an airplane once (twice, counting the return trip). I’ve only been out of the country for a few hours, during a brief sightseeing afternoon in Niagara Falls’ Canadian side (It’s much nicer, by the way).

So, if I decided to take a trip on an airplane, I’d be nervous. Flying scares a lot of people, but also I’d be afraid of the whole process of checking bags, checking myself in, going through security, boarding. When we took our one trip by plane, I had no idea they passed out cookies and drinks and earbuds for a two-hour flight. I still don’t know how to check and pick up suitcases because the Disney people did it all.
Some people are fearless — others shy away from new experiences, and sometimes this is because they don’t want to look ignorant.

How many times have you been afraid to ask questions? How many times have you actually prefaced them with, “this may be a dumb question, but…”?

When I do something new, I’m worried about missing things that are “common knowledge” to everyone else who does it. This is especially true because I tend to teach myself things instead of taking a course or lessons. I read books. I look online for tips. I learn by doing.

And yes, sometimes I ask “dumb questions.” But that means I get smart answers. And most of the time, the people I’m asking don’t mind; in fact, it reminds them of their own introduction to the subject. Everybody has to start somewhere.

I would hope nobody ever lets that fear keep them from coming into an antique shop. (Here’s the bridge leading back to the blog topic.)

I’ve had people come in here, of all ages, who know next to nothing about antiques and vintage items. They ask “dumb questions.” Sometimes I make fun of them. (Kidding – only if they’re rude).

I’ve spoken with people in other places who won’t come into an antique shop and would prefer not to talk about it. OK, not everyone is interested, and that’s fine, but sometimes there are other reasons, like these:

  • They have never been in an antique shop.
  • They think antique shops are like thrift stores, or full of useless junk.
  • They think antique shops are full of high-priced items they can’t afford anyway.

But there are reasons that are much worse: 
  • They aren’t well-versed in history, and don’t know Victorian from Art Deco, Austrian from Limoge, Depression glass from Mid Century elegant.
  • They don’t know how to tell an authentic item from a reproduction.
  • They don’t know what goes into pricing items, or why one is $10 and another similar one is $100.
  • They are afraid of getting cheated.
  • Someone once made them feel dumb for pointing out their ignorance.

 Well, I didn’t always know these things either. When I was learning, I worried that everyone else knew these “common knowledge” things and was secretly rolling their eyes at my ignorance.

Don’t let that stop you. Antiques dealers are usually thrilled to share their knowledge with you. After all, it’s their chance to show off how smart they are. And who doesn’t love that?

Also, a revelation: Sometimes we don’t know the answer either. That’s OK too.

Here’s what makes a person smart: It’s not knowledge, but the pursuit of knowledge.

Remember that, next time you need to ask a “dumb question.”


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