It's never cool to not know something

posted 11 January 2010

The details are fuzzy. I think I was about eight years old at the time. I was in the car with my mother, in Trinidad, driving from our house on the hill in Curepe towards the junction with the Eastern Main Road. We were just passing the corner where a hand-painted sign advertising "BROILERS $5.00"*. My mother had the radio tuned to the cricket. Somebody else was in the car -- I think it was my best friend at the time, Dari -- and he asked what the score was.

I'm not a fan of cricket, or indeed of any sport. Something fundamental about being a spectator to those sorts of activities escapes me. Coming from a family of sports fan, and already in possession of my gleeful contrarian streak, I quickly announced that I didn't know. In fact, I said, I didn't even understand what the scores meant -- runs and overs and wickets and things.

My mother told Dari the score, and then gave me a very mild rebuke for being so forcefully ignorant of the sport -- this was not the first time I'd done something like this. "It's never cool to not know something, Laurie," she said.

I doubt she even remembers making the comment. It wasn't an important "sit down and get this straight" moment. It was just something she said over her shoulder as she negotiated traffic. She meant that I shouldn't try to stand out from my peers by being deliberately ignorant about things (an emerging habit of mine at the time). She meant that there were better ways to define myself than by what I was not. But it hit home, in a way that things your parents say sometimes do, and it's stayed with me to this day. It's practically the defining tenet of my life.

Starting that day, I never turned down information. I can't say I eagerly sought out information on the byzantine rules of cricket, but I didn't ignore them when they came my way. Since then, when faced with anything new, I have tried to understand it, even if it doesn't interest me. The principle that became embedded in my brain was much broader, and it was that ignorance is uncool. As such I have tried very hard, ever since, to never be ignorant about anything, ever.

It created that infovore that I am today. I absorb anything and everything that falls into my path. One of my most-used phrases is "I once read an article about...". Pick a random topic and I'm not going to know much, but chances are I will have at least one random fact lying around, some connection I can make to my existing store of trivia.

Would I have been like that even if my mother had never said anything that day? Probably, I suppose. But probably not so soon, or so firmly. It's definitely one of those pivotal moments in my life, when a single remark shapes everything that happens afterwards. And I'm grateful for it.

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