One of my favorite statements is “You don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s so true, and yet we forget it every day. Here’s an example, based on a real life event that happened to me yesterday.
This occurred in the SawStop Users’ Group on Facebook. 1 This is not verbatim, because I already deleted the original post and frankly, I don’t remember the exact words, but it’s close enough to make the point.
Make sure you read the whole story, because it’s not how it appears at first glance.
Imagine you’re scrolling through the forum, and you come across the following post:
I just bought a shiny new table saw, with a beautiful cast iron top. I just noticed some scratches, and I don’t want to mar the pretty top. What can I do to keep the table saw looking like new?
So you reply with something like this:
If you think your saw looks scratched, you’d hate to see mine! 2
It’s not a museum piece, just use your saw and quit complaining!
If you wanted a mirror, you should have just bought a mirror. The saw was made to be used, not admired!
Those seem like reasonable responses, considering the question, right? I mean, they’re not exactly nice, but they’re pretty benign.
Except, that wasn’t the actual original post
Here’s the actual original post: 3
I just noticed some scratches on the cast iron top of my new table saw. I have no idea where they came from. What’s the best way to handle this? Should I try to buff them out, or just wax over them?
What you thought you knew:
You thought I was afraid to mar my pretty-looking new saw. In other words, you read it as if I had made the first post I talked about.
What you didn’t know: 4
I’ve never had a cast iron table before. I have no idea what to expect. When I first got the saw, lots of people were quick to warn me about how quickly it can rust. So naturally, I want to make sure not to do anything that could permanently damage the cast iron.
So I asked about the scratches, and what I should do about them.
A Better Response?
Always answer the question that was asked.
In other words, assuming these are things you believe:
Don’t worry about the scratches, you’ll get plenty more over time. Just use the saw like the tool it actually is, and don’t worry about trying to keep it brand-new-looking.
Or, if you’re Trent Davis, who actually knows what he’s talking about, you might respond something like this (and again, this is a paraphrase because I don’t remember the actual words):
You should probably clean it like I talk about in my web article, just to take the edge off the scratches, and wax it.
Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know.
When you attribute motivation to someone’s post without actually knowing the facts, you run the risk of:
- Posting a useless reply.
- Coming off sounding like a troll.
Hurting someone’s feelings, who only wanted an honest answer to an honest question. 7
But most importantly:
- You run the risk of making the group no longer a safe place to ask questions.
“Are you talking to me?”
If you think I wrote this blog post as a specific response to something you said on the forum, and you’re bristling with the need to defend yourself or even fight back, then I have just one thing to say:
My job here is done.
I really like the SawStop Users’ Group on Facebook, by the way. This is an anomaly. Well, actually, that’s not true. This is the second time something like this has happened to me on the forum. The first time was when I asked a different question about caring for the cast iron top. But regardless, I still like the group, and in fact that’s why I’m posting this in the first place, so it’ll continue to be a good place to hang out. ↩
EDIT 13:43 PDT: I was just reminded that after the person left this reply, he left another with an explanation of why I shouldn’t be too worried. So in retrospect, I shouldn’t have included this reply. But regardless, the points that follow are still valid. ↩
Paraphrased because I don’t remember the exact wording, but this is the gist. ↩
Or maybe you knew, but didn’t care, in which case, you might as well quit reading, because you’re not going to agree with my point. ↩
Obviously I’d recommend against ridiculing someone, but even I have trouble holding back sometimes. Still, taking the high road is preferable. 🙄 ↩
You didn’t hurt my feelings. Unless you consider being pissed off because you didn’t bother to answer the question the same as hurt feelings. 🤬 ↩
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