Embarrassment about Not Knowing Something
Q. I heard you speak about the link between dehydration and dementia. Wonderful information. However, when asked one particular question you replied, “That is outside my area of study and currently I am unfamiliar with research that could help me give you an appropriate answer.” Don’t you find it embarrassing to admit you don’t have an answer—and you a Brain Function Specialist? I would be—big time—and for a long time!
A. You ask a great question! In thinking about a response, words attributed to one of my favorite “ancient philosophers,” Epictetus, come to mind: “The thing that upsets people is not what happens but what they think it means… It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Therefore, if I am asked a question outside my area of study, all that means is that I do not know. It in no way demeans me as a person—because I am so clear that no one brain on this planet can or does know everything, so it would be foolish and a lie to pretend I do. My brain’s opinion is that it is important to role-model authenticity. If I think the questions involve brain function and that I may be able to discover information that could address it, I am willing to do the research and get back to the questioner. Otherwise, I have no problem saying that I do not know.
And what is embarrassment anyway? Shame is one synonym for embarrassment. Shame (along with guilt) are emotional interrupters—likely learned reactions that may or may not be valid and healthy. Growing up, human beings “learn” about shame and embarrassment. My definition of embarrassment or shame is that it alerts your brain to the fact that you breached a social or moral guideline or someone else thinks you did. It gives you the opportunity to evaluate the situation and your behavior, knowing that you can learn to exhibit a different behavior if necessary or apologize for a mistake or accident that was unintentional and do what you can to remedy the situation or….
I genuinely appreciate and feel humbled that people give me their time by attending my presentations and I never want to waste their time. My goal is to share information that has certainly changed my life and that can do that for others as they turn the information into knowledge and practically apply it in their own life. It would be disrespectful to the audience to pretend I know something if I don’t. My goal is to share what I have studied and never try to “fake it” because that will always show up in some way or another.
Honing one’s Emotional Intelligence skills can help a person identify whether shame or embarrassment is valid or invalid and choose appropriate behaviors. My brain’s opinion is that hanging onto embarrassment is a choice and—bottom line—I choose to avoid doing that.