“I Don’t Understand” May Be The Smartest Thing You Will Ever Say

Contrary to popular belief, the phrase “I don’t understand” may be the most empowering sentence you will ever utter.

As far back as I can remember, I was my father’s shadow– a bright, observant, and worrisome child, just behind his leg, listening to everything he said and didn’t say.

I noticed early on when men were alone, and in a group away from women, they cussed and seemed to have more fun. I wanted to be like them. Not literally – but socially.

By the age of 5 my siblings began to tattletale on me. “Mom,” they said, “Kerry can’t play with the neighborhood kids because she keeps saying the GD word.” That was my father’s favorite curse word. (The “F” word had yet to take on its prominence in popular vernacular of our all-too-boring movie scripts.)

“So what,” I thought. “It’s just a word.” A rebel was born.

I also noticed my Dad’s ego. He didn’t like to appear uninformed, especially in front of Mom.

Later in life, as he accumulated some wealth, I watched him talk to investment advisers with the same manly ego. What I learned from his mistakes was that it is smarter to be inquisitive and act-the-student, rather than pretend to know something you don’t. Dad made some poor investments because he didn’t ask questions and didn’t really understand the whole of it.

All of us want to appear smart; but admitting you don’t know something or don’t quite understand something is one of the smartest things you can do.

Not to gender-generalize but, in this area, having a female ego is sometimes easier. I have no problem asking question upon question until I completely understand the purchase I am making or problem I am solving. Another benefit of being inquisitive is that it serves as a great “B.S. barometer.” If the person I am conversing with can’t explain themselves in an understandable way, my internal red flag of distrust goes up and I know “sumpin’ ain’t right.”

Next time you’re having a hard time understanding something, feel free to act smart and say, “I don’t understand” or “could you explain that further” or, my favorite, “could you repeat that, please” and keep your eye on the B.S. barometer of understand-ability.

Smart people are curious people, who love learning. Asking questions is a method of learning, especially for us not-so-good readers.

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