“I don’t know” is not a valid answer

Not only in Singapore, but all around the world, people tend to be uncomfortable with saying, “I don’t know.”

When I was a student, “I don’t know” was never an acceptable answer. Even if you don’t know the answer, you are expected to come up with some bullshit to show that at least you are trying. Of course, the teachers are displeased to hear the bullshit but they are angered when students answer “I don’t know.” I recall on several occasions, I had totally no idea what the answer was so I wrote a whole load of crap to fill up the space in the exam paper. Nothing that I wrote was correct (I compared my answer to the model answer provided by the teacher) but I received a half or 1 sympathy mark for trying.

It’s true that I had nothing to lose by bullshitting during exams. For most exams, marks are not deducted for incorrect answers. I was placed 2nd in my school for a mathematics speed quiz. There were 30 multiple-choice questions with no penalty for incorrect answers. I completed 25 questions and during the final seconds guessed the last 5. Nothing to lose and all to gain!

I’d like to see exams where marks are deducted for bullshitting. This would save ink, paper and time. If you’ve marked someone’s paper before, I’m sure you would have at some point in time thought to yourself: why do I need to read this bullshit?? I know a few of my teacher have thought that way about my exam scripts evident from angry-looking red circles drawn with pressure that almost tore through the paper.

When people go out to work, they do the same thing. They think that they are expected to bullshit. I know that there are people who try to bullshit their colleagues and clients. They overlook the fact that people are really not that gullible or stupid. Yet student, parents, teachers, employees, bosses, religious people, doctors, etc would rather bullshit than admit that there’s plenty that they don’t know.

Our reluctance to say “I don’t know” is probably the biggest impediment in our quest for knowledge because if we think we already know the answer, we probably won’t bother to find out more.

[Bullshitting 101]


David said...


“I don’t know” is indeed no answer.

When a child ask an adult a question the adult cannot answer, “I don’t know”, without proper follow up, like, “I don’t know, but lets learn about this together...”. A parent, aunt or uncle with an maturity should not be ashamed to admit that adults do not know everything.

Learing is a life long experience.

I learn something new every day. I learn something new about my wife every day.

When one loses the desire and joy from learning and growing, that is a sad day.

Warren, Mich.

Shaun said...

I do not know, do not ask why?