Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 11:44 am | Fair 58º

 
 
 

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

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