At least half of the students who stop at the reference desk start off with, “This is a stupid question, but . . .” Then they ask a question that’s not stupid at all, but often does depend on their being familiar with some part of our campus system.
I sometimes think they say this to forestall someone else calling it stupid, although I’m sure they’ve all been through classes where instructors have said and meant that there are no stupid questions. At other times, I think they may have been beat down by people who certainly give the impression that the question they are asking is indeed stupid and that they too are stupid for asking it.
I’ve been on the receiving end of such people, and it’s not pleasant. What I especially hate is the heavy sighing. It goes something like this:
Me: I’m sorry. I didn’t quite understand these instructions. Which line am I supposed to go to now?
Person: (heaves heavy sigh, looks hard at the paper in my hand, and then makes eye contact with a look of heavy resentment radiating from his/her face): Line 6. (Then looks away immediately as if ashamed to be in the same space as someone as dumb as I am.)
I refer to these people as dragons. They are placed on the path to your goals and have to be conquered. But luckily, you don’t need a sword, and they can’t kill you. Their only power is their bad attitude. And if you simply ignore their nasty attitude, they lose all power to hurt you.
So go ahead and ask that stupid question. And if someone starts with an attitude, just smile at them and think, “Silly Dragon.”