There is such thing as a stupid question. My advice would be not to ask it.
I work in a Catholic church. In Catholic churches this time of year, we have something called a Passion play. It’s basically the story of what we believe happened to Jesus Christ on His last few days on earth (the Last Supper, Judas’ Betrayal, carrying the cross, the Crucifixion…everything in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which was released after the original events).
There are no animals in the Passion. I know this. I’ve been Catholic my entire life, and not once have I seen an animal in a Passion play.
However, today as I was standing outside the chapel trying to be helpful, a woman in a St. Louis Zoo uniform walked up to me and said, “After the Passion play, can you open the door so they can carry Cameron out?”
I said sure, I’d be happy too. And I didn’t ask the [stupid] question that came to mind:
What kind of animal is Cameron?
And, as an even stupider follow-up:
Does Cameron bite?
Of course, I didn’t ask these questions because they seemed stupid. I mean, wouldn’t I know if an animal was brought in from the zoo for our Passion play? Wouldn’t that have come up in a staff meeting?
Nonetheless, I wracked my mind for the animal that appears in the Passion that I must have forgotten. What was going to come through that door? A donkey? A dog? A camel? None of those seemed to make sense. But I didn’t have a good view of the play, so I really couldn’t tell if an animal was up there on the alter.
Finally, I realized what you all already know–and what I already knew before I was confused by the zoo employee (who I later learned was the director of the play. It was just a coincidence that she was wearing her zoo uniform): Cameron was a student, a human male, playing Jesus in our Passion play. He would be carried out after he “died” in the play.
I almost wish I had asked the question just for the look on the zoo employee’s face, just for the story. But I didn’t. And it’s good that I didn’t. Because it was a stupid question.
You don’t need to ask every question you think of. Sure, the truly stupid questions are tough to discern from the questions to which you think everyone knows the answers (think of all the times you didn’t know the acronyms that everyone else seemed to know), but sometimes you just know to keep your mouth shut. A good way to filter the stupid questions from the good ones is something I call The Camel Rule:
If you’ve considered “a camel” as a possible answer to a question, don’t ask that question.
Simple as that. Live by The Camel Rule. It’ll save you from a lot of bewildered looks.
So the next time you’re in a meeting and you’re about to ask a question for which you’ve considered a camel as the answer (i.e., “In this economy, how are we going to continue to courier these packages to our vendors?” or “How can we keep the team hydrated during away games?” or “What’s the optimal way to calibrate the concurrent locations of our synergistic functionalities?”), think twice. Stop yourself. Just look up the answer later.