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  • Writer's pictureA.K. Lee

The Shame of Asking

Recently, I had to have one of my dental bridges replaced. It is an expensive yet necessary process, so I had to grit my teeth (ha!) and go through with it. Thankfully my dentist is a lovely and patient young woman who understood the sort of stress I feel when I am at her mercy. I'm sure lots of us have similar fears when it comes to dentists, but I was won over by this particular one after one of my regular check-ups. Reassured that she was not about to laugh at me, I decided to ask some questions about dental care that, previously, I had been too embarrassed to ask my other dentists.

It turns out that mouthwash is not essential for my nightly routine (but good to do after a meal), flossing should be done before brushing, and it's not necessary to rinse out toothpaste because the fluoride in it needs time to work. Also, don't brush your teeth immediately after eating.

These are questions I've had for some time but they felt like questions that I, as an adult, should have answers to, and asking them is just plain embarrassing. I mean, I have been brushing my teeth twice daily since I was in kindergarten! I ought to have got this down by now. But I didn't!

Here's the thing: I wouldn't have known until I asked, and I didn't ask because I was afraid of judgment. But the first judgment was cast by me on others: I thought that they would think that I was stupid and be condescending towards me.

How much have I missed out on because I was afraid of looking dumb?

When I was little, many many years ago, I was the quiet student in class who could pick up information very quickly. I didn't have to ask questions since I knew most of the answers already. As I grew up, I found it easy to retain what I read in textbooks and notes. When I was a teacher, I encouraged questions because I was certain I could answer most of them. I didn't really have the need nor did I develop the confidence to ask others because I was so used to having answers.

In the Analects of Confucius, it is written, "The person who asks a question is a fool for a minute; the person who does not ask is a fool for life." Einstein also stated that, were he to have only one hour to solve a problem and his life was on the line, he would spend 50 minutes ensuring he asked the right questions. This is a lesson I am still learning, but I'm glad to have started!

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