Getting stumped is sometimes an invitation to rethink what we know.
You’d think that in the age of Google and post-truth everything, nobody would ask you questions anymore: that the facts are out there, just a few clicks away (along with all the half-truths and outright fabrications). Yet every day I’m relieved that just by being out in public, I run into endless situations in which no search engine could really replace a short, simple, human exchange of information.
At least that’s how I feel when I know the answer. Being stumped, on the other hand, is a jarring experience — someone has placed their faith in you and your knowledge, and you’re about to fail them. So I was delighted to hear from a colleague about Simple Scimum, a recent Editor’s Pick on Discover, where a scientist answers her kids’ deceptively straightforward questions about the world around them. It’s a site that turns a tricky Q&A situation — how do you give a reasonable answer to someone whose question is grounded in emotions like wonder and fear? — into an uplifting, informative experience.
Kate, the blogger in question, has a PhD in protein crystallography, a field I didn’t even know existed before visiting her About page. It was there that I also read her mission statement, which I loved:
Being asked things like what makes a rainbow?, are snails amazing? and how bright does the moon shine? has reignited my passion for science. I want to enthuse and enlighten young children and help them to channel their curiosity to understand how things work.
It’s nice, of course, to have an actual scientist provide explanations that I’d normally have to fabricate, cobble together from very loose atoms of classroom memories, or Google right there in front of my kid. But on a deeper level, this made explicit something I’d mostly forgotten: that when you answer a tough question (recent topics for me included the US electoral system, and — of course — death), you gain something at least as valuable as the person with whom you shared your knowledge, however shaky and incomplete the latter might be.
This week, tell us about a moment in which someone asked you a question you weren’t sure how to answer, whether because you didn’t know, were too uncomfortable, or thought you might offend or confuse the other person. This doesn’t have to be about factual questions, of course — the thorniest questions are often those to which there’s no clear, established answer. As always, feel free to approach the topic through any medium (or multiple media), and in any genre or style. I look forward to your posts!