It has happened to all of us. Topics about which we know nothing are introduced into a conversation, and everyone else seems to be very knowledgeable. Then someone turns to us and asks our opinion. What do we do? Reveal our ignorance? That is often what we should do, according to Leah Hager Cohen in her four-part essay I Don't Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't).
The settings in which we hesitate to admit a lack of knowledge are many, if we are like Cohen, who writes from experience. One of the most common is the college classroom. Students are there to learn, but many competitively pose that they already know everything when they don't. Sadly, opportunities for learning are lost when insecure students won't lower their shields of preconception. Admitting ignorance frees us from pretense and opens our minds. But only secure people seem to have the ability to say "I don't know."
I like the story of a reference librarian using his lack of knowledge as a good starting point to helping his clients. See pages 95-96. I also love the ending in which Cohen tells about being a girl walking home from the library with her mother in a snow storm.
I Don't Know is a book that I would enjoy giving to friends - because it is good reading not because they need reforming. It is surprising how few libraries have it yet. I imagine that reading Cohen's novel The Grief of Others would also be worth reading.
Cohen, Leah Hager. I Don't Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't). Riverhead Books, 2013. 116p. ISBN 9781594632396.