As a teacher, I've always tried to maintain the philosophy that there are no stupid questions, knowing full well that there are many stupid questions. There are also a lot of stupid people, but it is much more noticeable when a relatively smart person asks a stupid question. I can overlook a stupid question from someone who legitimately doesn't have a clue, but not from a highly educated and successful person.


A good example of that occurred recently at dinner. I was enthusiastically devouring an order of lobster ravioli, and had almost finished it when someone asked me if it was good. It was one of those "Duh" questions that are not all that uncommon.


Kids ask lots of seemingly stupid questions because they are relatively new to the world, and they are still learning things we take for granted. "Why is the sky blue?" is a legitimate question from a kid. It is also one I can't answer. "Why is water wet?" is another one, but one I can answer.


I show lots of restraint when I ask someone a question and his or her reply is, "Why do you ask?" I want to say, "I asked you because I want to know the answer... you idiot." I show less restraint when someone asks a poorly phrased question, such as, "What are you up to?" I like to reply, "About 6 feet." I love it when a waitress looks at my empty dinner plate and asks, "Are you through with that?" Occasionally I will say, "I was going to lick it, but then you would want my phone number, and that would only lead to trouble."


There are some questions I have that continue to puzzle me, but I don't go around asking them. I like to avoid being accused of being strange. I am strange, but I try not to make it more obvious than it already is. For example, my clothes dryer quite regularly turns my T-shirts inside out. I've tried turning the shirts inside out before putting them in the dryer, but the dryer never turns them back to right side out. I can't go around asking that kind of question.


Is a "bad example" a poor example, is it a good example of how not to do something, or is it an example of how to be bad? I don't think that, "He sets a bad example," is the same as, "He used a bad example," but what about "He is a bad example?" I use lots of examples in my organization theory class to illustrate how organizations screw up things, but I'm not sure in which category the examples belong. I guess it depends on whether they are good, bad examples or bad, bad examples.


Comedians have frequently used questions to entertain their audiences. Questions like, "Are semi-truck drives smaller than other drivers?" can be funny if spoken rather than written. Punctuation in written questions can clear up such confusions. "Is she a high, school girl?" is not the same question as, "Is she a high-school girl?"


I've often heard it said that some questions raise more questions than they answer. That seems wrong to me. Knowingly asking a question that only raises more questions is like throwing a rock at a crowd. All you are going to get is a lot of rocks thrown back at you. Of course philosophers would disagree with my rationale, which is one reason I don't like philosophers. (With one notable exception.)


Here is one for the philosophers: Why do we have rhetorical questions?