Remember during your first couple years of elementary school when your nice teachers who weren’t yet jaded by years of irrational, overly demanding parents and poorly raised children used to tell you that there were no stupid questions? They lied.
Don’t take that too hard; they were horrible, lying people. They also told me I could be anything I wanted, but my dreams of growing up to be a professional shampoo commercial actor were cruelly dashed when I started losing noticeable amounts of hair at 17 years old to male pattern baldness. Liars.
The point is that the “no stupid questions” myth is complete mularkey, and I’ve brought my giraffe friends here along today to help me demonstrate. You see, it is okay to not know things; that’s perfectly acceptable. That was the sentiment your teachers were trying to convey. What they forgot to point out is that it is not okay to just lazily abandon all attempts at thought.
I volunteer (sometimes multiple days per week) at the local zoo to facilitate the interaction between zoo visitors and the zoo’s two giraffes. The interaction concept is pretty simple: You pay a dollar; I hand you a couple servings of leaves or lettuce; and you walk up and offer it to the giraffes, who, theoretically, will eat it.
I can see I’ve already lost a number of you at “theoretically”. Don’t worry, you’re in plenty of company. You see, one of the things a shockingly large number of people have trouble understanding is that it’s difficult to convince giraffes that just because you paid the zoo for some leaves, they (the giraffes) are then contractually obligated to come over to you and eat the leaves. It’s probably one of the reasons you see so few giraffe lawyers.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. Back to the difference between an acceptable giraffe question and a stupid giraffe question. The reason that I choose to volunteer at the giraffe feeding experience is because I think giraffes are really amazing. I’ve felt that way for a long time, so I’ve picked up a few giraffe information tidbits during my life. Even armed with my own personal interest, though, I didn’t know nearly the number of incredible things about giraffes that the zoo taught me during my training for the position.
I am therefore not completely unsympathetic to the idea that the average person may not know even the most basic information about giraffes. Height is probably the most obvious quality of a giraffe, and “How tall are these giraffes?” and “How tall can giraffes get?” are perfectly acceptable questions. Males can sometimes be up to 19 feet tall, by the way. We also tend not to consider how massive they are aside from their height, so it seems perfectly reasonable to me when people are surprised that our male weighs over 2,700 pounds, and he’s not even considered particularly large.
There are, in fact, all kinds of basic information about giraffes that I wouldn’t expect to just be rattling around inside everyone’s noggin. You may not know that giraffes can run up to speeds of around 35 miles per hour. You may not know that they generally live to around 25 years old whether in the wild or in captivity. You might not know that they have really great eyesight. Maybe you never heard or considered that they “neck wrestle.” You might not guess that a giraffe’s front legs are longer than its neck, so it has to spread its front legs to drink or eat off of the ground. I wouldn’t expect you to know that they have no front teeth on top or how many total teeth they have. Hell, I won’t bat an eye if you never even considered whether or not a giraffe has teeth at all.
There’s also a bunch of super interesting information about giraffes that you’d really have to be a giraffe aficionado to know. How could you know that giraffes typically only sleep a cumulative total of 20 to 30 minutes per day and usually only for a handful of minutes at a time? There’s no reason to expect that you would know that those pointy things on its head aren’t horns or antlers that grow out from the skull but rather “osicones” that start forming at the tips and grow in toward the skull, fusing with it as they mature. A giraffe’s circulatory system is so complex that you probably don’t know about all of its specialized features or even that their blood pressure and heart rate are more than 2 times that of a human.
There’s tons of information to know about giraffes, and I really don’t expect anyone to know even a fraction of it. In fact, a big part of the reason that I volunteer is because I like helping people discover things about giraffes they didn’t know. Prior to working a few shifts at the giraffe feeding experience, I would have thought there was almost nothing someone could ask about a giraffe that I wouldn’t be more than happy to answer.
And then you people arrived. I have to hand it to you, it is truly impressive how little thought people can dedicate to some things, sometimes. Most of the time, it’s not even that the people don’t know the answers to the questions they’re asking; it’s that the questions don’t really have any true answers at all — that no one is capable of answering them in an informative way. Such questions are usually only answerable by logic and reasoning; not by some cache of knowledge available only to the privileged or educated. In fact, most of them are so lacking in rational substance that they qualify as questions in syntax only.
Need a basic example? “Why is it over there?” WHAT?! The giraffe is standing in the middle of a large grassy area that has little to no discernable variation. How on earth could that question possibly have an answer? “Well, you see, Karen,… he’s standing over there because giraffes always carefully calculate their distance so that they’re 31 feet from the closest object to the north and 19.2 feet from the closest object to the east.” How does that question even occur to you?! He’s standing over there because he was walking around and then he stopped walking. That’s it. That’s the whole answer… for every living thing on the planet, Karen.
A lot of the stupid questions revolve around them not doing what the people wish they would. Maybe it’s like a release valve for frustration. “When is it going to come back over here?” At 11:03am, Karen. Looks like you’ve got 6 minutes and 42 seconds to kill. We dock his pay if he’s late. The male will be on time for sure, now, because we’ve already written him up a number of times. The female, though, well she’s a fairly punctual generally, so she’s got a little more leeway if she needs it.
“Why does it keep moving its head away when I reach toward its face and eyes?” I don’t know; come here, let’s try it on you. Actually, we’ve given the giraffes strict talks about Public Displays of Affection with zoo patrons, and he’s afraid that you poking his eyes and grabbing at his face crosses the line into inappropriate caressing.
“Why did the giraffe stop eating?” Ah, right, well, he’s used up all of his Weight Watchers points for the day. Most of the animals here at the zoo have carefully planned diets to ensure they stay healthy, and those are managed by the zookeepers. Not the giraffes, though. We give them as much as they want, and they choose whether they’re going to go on South Beach, Paleo, Atkins, or whatever. The female generally sticks to old school calorie counting, but the male is a fad diet guy.
“Why does it take him so long to pee?” The Giraffe Union lost the labor dispute on that one. They wanted a greater number of shorter bathroom breaks per day, but we knew they would just use them to get on their cell phones and smoke cigarettes. We couldn’t justify the drop in production for just that, so we stood our ground. Now they’re only allow two restroom breaks per day, and boy do they ever have to go when the time comes.
It’s probably impossible for me to recount or characterize all of the stupid questions that people ask, but a large majority of them have to do with normal behaviors displayed by every creature and with which we are all very familiar. We walk away from things when we lose interest in them; we eat what we choose to when we’re hungry. None of this is rocket science that one is unable to hash out on their own without the help of someone more educated on the subject.
So, if you want to avoid asking stupid questions, like all functional people should, please consider your question before it comes flopping out of your mouth. Is it a phenomenon you truly can’t understand or reason your way through? Does the person to whom you’re asking the question really have more insight into this than you? This doesn’t just apply to giraffes; the same goes for asking who an unidentified character is 1.4 seconds into the opening scene of a movie. Yes, Virginia, there are stupid questions, but all you have to do to avoid asking them is to give things a little consideration on your own.