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LIFE HONESTLY

Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is admit you know nothing

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Footballer Neville Southall has inspired Caroline O’Donoghue to ask more questions - even if she looks like a knob doing it

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

There was a time, a couple of years ago, when a lot of my friends decided to delete their Twitter accounts. They said that it had become too much hassle, and that they were always afraid of putting a foot wrong: what if they accidentally revealed that they were not as educated about politics as they should be? What if they used a term that was no longer appropriate, and what if a hundred people jumped on them to tell them so? You saw it in Facebook comments, too: during my time as a social media manager, I read hundreds of conversations between people obsessively correcting one another, and then revelling in having being right all along. And don’t even get me started on Youtube. 

The thing about the internet, though, is that it’s altogether too easy to pass yourself off as an expert. If you don’t know a word, or have never heard of a person, you can Google it and pretend you knew all along. You can literally Google-search your own opinions until you find an academic who agrees with you, and then post a link to their work, hotly typing, “I think you’ll find that Harvard professor Dr Elliot Fieldenstein agrees that The Rock does prefer to be called “The Rock”, and not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.” 

We use the internet to communicate, and the internet knows everything, and so we expect that we, too, should know everything. Which is why, lately, I find myself more impressed by the people who admit to knowing nothing. 

Neville Southall is a 59 year-old Welsh former international footballer, who yesterday, reached out to Twitter user @judeinlondon2 with the following.

And reader, the resulting conversation is one that made my heart filled with joy and hope for this shoddy shitshow of a planet. 
 

At the risk of sounding condescending toward Neville Southall, who is a grown man with kids and a house and stuff, this is the cutest exchange I’ve ever seen on Twitter. Every letter, every syllable, every word is cute. Everyone on earth should have a small, laminated card that says, “Bit confusing for a knob like me but clearer now thanks”, that they can present wordlessly in any conversation where they feel out of their depth.

@JudeinLondon2, to her credit, responds with the immaculate poise of a visiting diplomat.The whole conversation is the kind of gentle exchange you expect to witness among Moomins, and that is exactly what the internet should be. 

The important thing isn’t that he gets it wrong, though: the important thing is that you can see he is trying, really, earnestly trying, to get it right. 

Funnily enough, this is the second time in a week that an exchange like this has floated into my field of vision. Drag queen Willam Belli, made a series of incredibly transphobic comments on his Youtube show, and after hearing the (justifiably) angry responses from fans, shared a long, unedited video of him attempting to learn about trans issues from other drag queens, while frequently getting it wrong. 

The important thing isn’t that he gets it wrong, though: the important thing is that you can see he is trying, really, earnestly trying, to get it right. 

“Courtney told me that gender is different than sex, which I’m trying to understand… I’m getting it, I’m learning, I didn’t know, and I hope my education catches up with the evolution of thought,” said Belli. “I feel bad about how I made people feel about it, and this is my official apology.”

In the age of the cool, formal “official apology” that often feels so fake, there’s something genuinely affecting about someone who is willing to look stupid in order to understand something.

Because ultimately, there are a whole lot of concepts around right now that were never being discussed in a mainstream way until a few years ago, and trans/cis is just one of them. Cultural appropriation is a confusing topic. Global warming is a confusing topic. The American democratic system is an incredibly confusing topic. But rolling your eyes and saying, “well, that whole area is a minefield” is not an excuse to continue being ignorant about something. None of this gets any less confusing by sitting and pretending that you know what’s going on.

Sometimes you need to do the really smart thing, and look stupid. 

@Czaroline

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