There are stupid questions. Your second grade teacher might have told you otherwise, but she was lying. Don’t hold it against her, for she had the best of intentions and the lie served a definite purpose. She might also have believed it when she said it, but it’s still wrong. Having spent the better part of three decades locked firmly within the grip of the educational system, I can say unequivocally that there are stupid questions.
They fall into two categories. First, those to which one already knows the answer but prefers to pretend otherwise. And Second, those for which one doesn’t actually care about the answer. This is also neglecting the fact that in addition to stupid questions there are also wrong questions, those asked because one either doesn’t want to ask or doesn’t know the correct question. Wrong questions can still be useful if they lead to the right question.
The college hosts internship interviews every spring. The suit-and-tie crowd always ask “Why do you want to work here?” And I always bite my tongue and spew something pleasant, usually just regurgitating their own self-promoting language from the company website. I can usually find one or two projects in particular to praise. The old “I’ve heard good things from other interns” or “your firm has a good reputation” always go over well. Most of the time I even mean it. Every firm has its redeeming qualities or they wouldn’t still be in business and I’d never apply for one which I’d heard awful things about or disliked their work intensely.
What I really want to say is: “I don’t know that I do want to work here. I’ve never worked for an architecture firm before and I’ve never so much as seen the inside of your offices. That’s like asking a twelve year old whether they prefer white or red wine after reading the labels on the bottle. Give me the job and ask me again at the end of the summer. I’ll give you a detailed dissertation as to why or why not I want to work for your firm.”
It’s both a stupid question, because they’re just looking for some bland sort of praise anyone can throw back at them, and a wrong question because it has little bearing on how good an intern someone will be. Providing they don’t absolutely hate the firm in question, of course, and I don’t know anyone in my college quite that self-sacrificing. Architects, like artists, being a somewhat finicky and temperamental lot (we hide it better) generally find themselves unhappy at work due to either unforeseen circumstance or the utter boredom that comes from being too low on the totem pole.
Today a university administrator asked us, for the umpteenth time, “You all plan to stay in Nebraska after you graduate, right?” I almost laughed at him. It’s not that I’m in any terrible hurry to leave (or perhaps I am) or that I dislike Nebraska. Quite the opposite, I like Nebraska very much, but Nebraska is just Nebraska and as such a very small part of a very large world. I’m an architecture student. Travel is vitally important to my profession. There are just so many wonderful buildings out there I’ve yet to see! The students I was with are journalists. I’m sure travel is every bit as appealing to them as to me.
I could say without a hint of regret “No, I’m applying to go to Japan next year,” which neatly smoothed over the hesitant monosyllables of my colleagues. The questioner could assume to their heart’s delight that it was merely a one-off, a study abroad from which I intended to return “home.” All the legislators and educators talk about the brain drain and keeping graduates in Nebraska. Why? Why don’t you try luring out of state graduates
here? Make it a one for one swap. This is a mobile, and quickly globalizing, generation. We like to travel and live in new, interesting places. They say diversity is important, but its only lip service, because what they really want is Nebraska for Nebraskans. I’ve met several international students who said they came to Nebraska because they’d never heard of it before and it was about as far away as they could think to go. Capitalize on that. Don’t let social fear and cultural ego lead to unreasonable expectations for today’s students.
By the time I graduate, I’ll have spend three decades firmly anchored in Nebraska. Isn’t that enough? I’d like to be nomadic for a while after I graduate, spend a year in one country, two in another, a few more elsewhere. Who knows, maybe I’ll return for my final three decades. The Sandhills can be awfully peaceful.
In the meantime, maybe people will stop asking questions they don’t really want the answers too.