When I was 16 years old, my father gave me a piece of advice that dramatically changed me. His advice changed my interactions with the world. I rather doubt he thought it would have such impact, but change me it did.
Having finished my mandatory schooling, I had recently started attending sixth form college. I was taking A-levels in Maths, Computer Science and Economics. I found I took to the former 2 subjects like a duck to water. They weren't a struggle, they were interesting and I had a natural aptitude. For want of a better phrase, I could "do it".
However, Economics was a different kettle of fish. It did not fit in my head. I could not grok it. I sat there, in lesson after lesson, listening hard to Terri Wilcox explaining Keynes, Monetarism, supply and demand. Occasionally she deviated and talked about her beloved Blackburn Rovers. It did not go in. Not the Economics and certainly not the football. At the end of each sentence uttered I found myself more bewildered than the last.
What made it worse was that I was alone in this. We all sat there in this silent classroom. Everyone else drinking in the new knowledge like so much ginger beer. Except me.
After a couple of weeks I began to despair. I was learning nothing. I felt I was about as likely to gain a qualification in economics as I was to learn how to breathe underwater. (A life goal that I had only recently realised wasn't actually possible.) So, whilst drying up after dinner one night, I explained my predicament to Dad.
"If you don't understand something, you should ask" he advised.
"But I'll just look stupid"
"No, if don't ask then you'll remain ignorant. And that is stupid."
"But no-one else needs to ask, they all understand!" I moaned.
"How do you know?"
"Well if they didn't, they'd ask."
"Like you, you mean?"
The man had a point. He continued:
"I reckon that every person in that room is in the same position as you. I reckon they're all sitting there saying nothing and learning nothing. That's what I think. And even if I'm wrong, you're certainly learning nothing right now. You have an opportunity to change that."
I couldn't fault his logic. I was slightly concerned about where it might lead, but there was a chance he was right.
In the next dreaded lesson I sat there listening. Terri was talking about the money supply or some such fanciful notion. As usual, in the realm of economic education, I was demonstrating all the sponge-like qualities of a pumice stone. Terri reached the end of her spiel and said "Any questions?"
Summoning my courage I raised my hand and said "I don't think I quite understand..."
"What don't you understand?"
"Well... Any of it really." There were were titters, as I had feared. Terri paused for a moment and then grinned. She proceeded to start explaining at the beginning. At the end of each paragraph she would check with me that I was following along. I'd respond, honestly, and where I didn't follow it, Terri would take me through, concept by concept until I did. From my perspective my classmates might as well not have been there; it had turned into a dialogue between Terri and myself. When it came time to leave the lesson I had a first: I'd learned something.
That's how it continued from thereon in. If I didn't understand something, which was most of the time, I asked. Terri stopped and she took me through it. I never came to find the dismal science straightforward or interesting. It is dull. But I did learn it. In large part I credit that to Terri for being game with a student who showed no gifting for her subject. But mainly I credit this to my father.
The principle he espoused applies far more broadly than A-level economics lessons. If you don't know: then you should say. Find out! You're wasting your time otherwise. The only reason other people don't do the same is that they're scared. But scared of what? Looking ignorant? That passes in a couple of minutes. Actually being ignorant doesn't.... Unless you take action. It's a lesson that's stuck with me. Thanks Dad.
Happy Father's Day!