Pixel Tracker

Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 6:04 pm | Fair 59º


Paul Burri: There’s No Shame in Admitting ‘I Don’t Know’

You're likely to earn more respect by confessing your ignorance than by offering erroneous information

One of the best lessons I have ever learned was that it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” Before I learned that, my idea was that I would appear dumb if I didn’t know the answer to every question posed to me.

There’s a certain amount of confession involved in saying those three words. In effect you are confessing your ignorance, and who wants to admit that they’re ignorant? Certainly I don’t. It took a long time to realize that coming up with a lame answer or one that ultimately proved to be wrong made me look even more stupid.

I have a family member who simply can’t say that he doesn’t know. Recently I asked him what 3G meant when talking about cell phones. He immediately (and authoritatively) answered that it meant 3 megabytes, as in computer memory. Later I learned that the correct answer is that it means third generation. He was not around when I found the correct answer and I will never bring it up to him, but my confidence in his knowledge (and his integrity) has been seriously affected. Since this is not the first time this has happened, I will always be less than confident in almost anything he ever tells me.

I will always have much more respect for the person who says “I don’t know” than one who has a glib erroneous answer.

I don’t know who wrote the following article, but I find it refreshing to read the director’s attitude about people who are ever ready to pontificate about art — especially modern art — and to speak endless, meaningless mumbo jumbo when standing in front of some obscure piece of “art.”

A speech given to the staff and docents by the new director of an art museum:

“Good morning,

“I am your new director, and I am honored to have been selected by your board of directors. I believe that our museum serves a great service to our visitors and to the world in acquiring and showing the collected works of artists from all ages and cultures. We work in a noble profession.

“I’d like to explain to you some changes that I intend to make in the way we do what we do.

“First, we will begin a program of honesty when we talk about any of the works in our collection. I do not mean to imply that we have been dishonest in the past. It is a matter of what we have left unsaid that I am referring to. Just because a piece of art is in our collection does not mean it is the greatest piece in the world. On the contrary, having a pretty good idea what our budget is makes me sure that it is probably a lot lower on the hierarchy of quality. So if we own a second-class Monet (my emphasis), let’s be able to admit that he painted much better pieces.

“Second, we will know what we are talking about. We will no longer say things like, ‘The verticality of lines emphasizes man’s impenetrable search for his immutable position in the cosmic universe.’ We will be free to say things like, ‘This is my opinion about this piece, and this is what it means to me.’ We will be open to the opinions of our guests. It is even OK for them to hate some of the work that we show.

“On the same subject of knowing what we are talking about, we will try to explain, as best we can, why we think a certain piece says something to us. Do not say things like, ‘This piece inspires me. (or depresses me, or enrages me) without being prepared to explain why it does so.”

How refreshing! Someone who endorses telling the truth and is also not afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

P.S. “One lousy painting is a mistake. Thirty lousy paintings is a series.”

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >