My family and I were recently on vacation in San Francisco. During our trip, we attended lectures in the Muir Woods – a forest of redwood trees – and Alcatraz Island. At the end of each lecture, the speaker asked if there were any questions. Of the dozens of people attending each lecture, only two people asked questions:
My kids. Clara and Charlie.
I had questions, too, but knowing how often I have a chance to speak, I always try to make room for others.
The absence of questions appalled me. How tragically incurious and disinterested my fellow attendees were after hearing the talk. My children had so many questions.
How could no one else have a single one?
When I returned home, I told a friend about my disappointment in the human race and its disturbing lack of curiosity.
“Matt, it’s not that they didn’t have questions. They were just afraid to ask. People can’t stand speaking in public. And they’re afraid of sounding foolish when they do.”
This possibility never occurred to me. It’s never, ever occurred to me.
I mentioned this lack of questions to another friend, who told me almost exactly the same thing.
I couldn’t believe it.
I have never been afraid to say anything, anywhere, at any time. I look forward to the next opportunity to speak in public. I’d rather speak to 1,000 people than a single person. I’ve spent most of my life looking for an audience to listen to me.
But for most people – nearly everyone – public speaking is inherently fraught with peril. On a list of fears, people often rate it ahead of death.
This was an excellent reminder for me:
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Your reality does not always reflect the reality of others.
Your worries and fears are not always emblematic of the worries and fears of others.
Get out of your bubble whenever possible.
Avoid assumptions whenever possible.
The obvious answer is not always the correct answer.
You are not like everyone else, and everyone else is not like you.