Once upon a time, Aristotle was about to take on a new student. When his parents brought him, Aristotle asked him what he knew and the boy began ranting, “I know science, logic, the formulation of apothecaries, and even alchemy.. I know .. I know.. I know…” Aristotle looked up at the parents and replied sadly, “I will have to charge you double. One part to teach him, and the other part to get him to shut up!”
The class started as usual. Debit and credit. He opened the conversation with the first question and I volunteered to read it out. I then proceeded to attempt to answer it. As I went on, I noticed no one else was speaking. Hmmmmnnn. I trudged on anyway. Midway through it, Rasheeda began shaking her head. I paused. That is a bad sign. If an accountant begins shaking her head in an introductory accounting class, then there is a problem. However, since she said nothing, I continued speaking. By the end, the facilitator appeared satisfied and was about to move on when Rasheeda finally spoke up. Sharing her insights, we found where we missed it.
I felt stupid.
I heard Bimbo ask me, “how do you feel now”? My reflex was to recoil into my shell and not speak a word in that class again. After all, what do I know?
Benefits of shutting up
When you keep quiet in class no one will ever get to know what is your mind. All the nonsense in there will remain there, and as the class progresses, you get to gain clarity from the input of your other loud-mouthed classmates. Those ITKs who always talk as if they know it all. At the end of the class, you may leave more knowledgeable or more confused, but at least your pride would be intact!
But a closed mouth is a closed destinyMany Nigerian Pastors.
My experience on both sides of the verbal divide has been really interesting. When I kept quiet, not exposing my ignorance, I felt safe, but it made studying a lot more difficult as I had to go back to spend hours studying to understand. However, I knew that one well-placed question would have dispelled my confusion and set me on the path to proper understanding.
When I asked questions, however, or attempted questions and got them wrong in class, it made me hungry to go back and find out why I was wrong. Why did I look like a fool today? How do I get better? When I got past my fear of failure and public ridicule, I actually learned better. On the occasion when I answered correctly, I got a sense of validation that my hard work was actually paying off. That I wasn’t completely devoid of knowledge, and that surely and steadily, I was climbing the learning curve. So, I made a decision a long time ago. I will always speak up! The path to learning is fraught with many obstacles, and I will not let my pride be one of them.
But what do you do when you are not sure?
Well, I’m not sure. ‘shrugs’.
(see what I did there?).
However, I have learned that if you let your self-doubt show, you would lose your audience because people don’t follow competence, they follow conviction. Everyone has self-doubt. Some just do a better job at hiding it!
Timidity is not a virtue.
So, what do you do when you are actually wrong?
The drawback of sounding confident all the time, is that someday you will be proven to be wrong. The internal consequences of this may be self-doubt, impostor syndrome, and a resolve to never put yourself in such a vulnerable position again.
This, in my opinion, comes from our training in childhood in Nigeria. We are penalized for getting answers wrong and rewarded for getting them right. While it is a good system for scoring, it is not a good system for learning, because for learning to take place, you must be willing to risk being wrong. We have put too much of an expectation on ourselves to always be right.
You need to realize that you are not omniscient! As soon as you accept the fact that you are not infallible, you will be more willing to forgive yourself for not knowing stuff. You will begin to look at everyone who mocks you as idiots. You will also begin to feel sorry for them because by making fun of you, it shows that they have put the same unrealistic expectations on themselves.
The trick is to have the courage to admit when you are wrong, declare how you are not infallible, as you are only human, then learn from it and move on, all the while being confident and continuing to speak out when you need to.
So what should Aristotle’s student have said?
He should have spoken along the lines of: Hello Mr Aristotle, Before coming here, I had studied science, logic, the formulation of apothecaries, and even alchemy… but I am here to learn from you as you are one of the greatest teachers to ever live. It would be an honor to learn at your feet.”