I just had a conversation with my father about a job application in which they wanted to know if I ever had any traffic violations.

Now, as far as I can remember, I've never been busted for speeding; the only issue I've ever had was being pulled over a few times for not having a licence plate sticker.

When discussing this, my father said something like "that doesn't count, only moving violations count".

I told him that since I was pulled over, maybe it would count as a "moving violation" (never mind that the words "moving violation" was not even mentioned in the job application text).

He got really angry and said that I should know what a moving violation is.

I told him that I've never been pulled over for speeding as far as I can remember, so how would I know what a moving violation is?

He told me that ignorance is no excuse for not knowing the law and that I should know about this from talking to other people (the only people I've talked to who have said things about this have been drunk drivers I met in college).

I told him that I was sorry that I was so boring that I had never been pulled over for speeding or drinking.

He got really angry and said "don't think that I would want you to have been pulled over for drunk driving!"

I assumed that he wanted me to have done this because, in order to get any "experience" with that part of the law, that's what I would have had to have done!

I don't understand the situation or the anger on his part.

This does remind me of another story from my youth.

I was in the 6th grade. My teacher told me to give the names of the months in order. I hadn't learn that yet at that point, so I just told her I don't know the months of the year in order. I was yelled at and sent to the office!

What can I do about this? How can I handle the situation when dealing with someone like my father or a teacher at school?

  • 3
    What goal are you trying to accomplish here?
    – user288
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 7:40
  • 1
    @Hamlet I stated it clearly in my question; How can I handle the situation when dealing with someone who thinks that you are ignorant, especially when they are an authority figure?
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 14:44
  • Overall it sounds like I made a sarcastic remark without realizing it was received as sarcastic by an authority figure because I didn't know what I didn't know; well he's got at least 30 years experience on me, and might I add experience NOT spent on a computer; he grew up almost on a farm, and went to a one room school house. Conversely, I tried to spend as little time as possible on the road, as I believe life is short and it is a waste of your time for everyone else spending time on the road.
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 14:52
  • @sgroves I knew not to go over the speed limit, but I didn't know it was called a moving violation.
    – leeand00
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 20:42

6 Answers 6


As @WeaselADAPT said, the best thing to do is to use a combo of humor and patience. The smartest of people do stuff like this, and trust me, if you don't know about something, the best thing to do is learn about it ASAP, and admit that you don't know at the beginning of any argument :)

When you're faced with a situation like this, even if you don't see it coming, the easiest thing to say would be something like:

"Dad... I have no clue how this works... Why don't you tell me more about it?"

Sometimes, just saying a few flattering words will do the trick. The problem that often arises it that people have overlarge, inflated egos, which they have no control over. This ego is one of the biggest problems in all relationships and arguments.

If you ever want to avoid a situation like this, the best way to do it is:

  1. I know you can't see it coming, but as soon as it comes along, take a deep breath, and smile to yourself internally. Don't dare smile at the person talking to you, as they might get angrier.
  2. If the other person continues to pester you why you don't know something, keep quiet and give them a blonde smile now. This makes them realize that you really don't know about something.
  3. Keep your mouth shut if the other party is getting more agitated, but try to keep the mood light, and not serious.

This kind of skill comes with practice, and if you get angry very often, meditation is a powerful way to keep the ego out of the fight. Remember, you don't have to prove yourself right everytime. Sometimes, it helps to just prove that you're a peaceful person... Just chill :)

  • 1
    Actually, IT IS A CRIME not to know about what is and isn't a CRIME. Otherwise you could claim not to know about something, and get off the hook. It's necessary to make the system work. If ya have a problem with that one, you have to take it up with a higher authority than the law, if ya know what I'm saying...
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 1:19
  • 1
    @leeand00 about the crime part... I was just trying to make idiomatic language right there... But you're right :)
    – Abhigyan
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 1:32
  • 10
    @leeand00 Whoa, slow down there. It's not a crime to not know the law... it's just that if you break a law, not knowing the law isn't a valid excuse. But not knowing the law is not a crime in and of itself.
    – user428517
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 17:38
  • 1
    sgroves is correct - It is not a crime to not know the law. However, when a crime has been committed, "ignorance of the law is no excuse" Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 0:53
  • 4
    It is a sign of strength to admit ignorance. Never be ashamed to say; "oh, I didn't know that, thank you". It costs you nothing and adds to the harmony in the world.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 7:55

If I'm understanding correctly, you asked your father a question. He answered it. You challenged the answer. He reacted defensively (people do that), and told you you should know the answer. You challenged that as well. He then told you a fact you didn't know (perhaps): ignorance of the law is no excuse. Then you threw in this response:

I told him that I was sorry that I was so boring that I had never been pulled over for speeding or drinking.

I wouldn't react too well to this comeback either. Instead of being forthright (which you had been till then), your answer was sarcastic.

I don't think it's easy for an adult to remember when they didn't know so much. Because I have a painfully good memory, I can remember a lot of the incredibly irresponsible things I did based on ignorance in general or ignorance of the law before becoming a real adult. Your dad probably doesn't, so perhaps he thinks you should know more than you do.

But mind-bogglingly ignorant? I don't get the impression that your knowledge base is responsible for this interaction, but rather how you reacted when you asked him for help.

If you don't want to appear "mind bogglingly ignorant", at the first hint of trouble, say, "thanks, Dad. That helps." Then start Googling "moving violations", "traffic violations", "summary offenses", "pleading guilty". You will soon realize that not keeping your registration sticker current is not a moving violation.

As a parent, I would have thought that moving violations were taught in driving school or the booklet you studied from. And the truth is that ignorance of the law is no excuse; that's actually true, and legally not an excuse. That's why it's important to know the basic laws of the land.

Your dad can cut you some slack, and you can (and should) rely on yourself more to figure these things out. After you've read about it and think you have it down, you can ask if you understand it correctly. If you have it mostly right, that's better for his opinion of you.

What your teacher did was unkind. People know some things and don't know others. To learn, you need to listen, not just challenge. then check up on it's veracity in private. If you don't ever want to appear ignorant, there is an old saying:

It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it. (Author unknown, but often miscredited to one of two learned med: Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain.)

  • I'm in my 30s; I've always had issues like this and I guess that's why I took one example from my past and one example from the present.
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 1:26
  • 4
    Given that the father became angry before the sarcastic comeback, I don't think it's entirely the OPs fault. I wouldn't react well to people become angry, either, and sarcasm seems about the least you could expect in return.
    – Erik
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 6:27

I will be straightforward here.

He told me that ignorance is no excuse for not knowing the law.

He is right. The judge won't accept your reason of "I didn't know that was forbidden" after you murder someone.

For me here is why your father got really angry. Because of how you responded.

I told him that I was sorry that I was so boring that I had never been pulled over for speeding or drinking.

Reply as such is kind of rebellious to me. You may not agree with what he said, but reply as such does easily trigger someone.

As for the second example, I think your 6th grade teacher are overreacting.

Adults have to bear responsibilities. Law is something serious and your father hopes you will understand the importance of it. Learn to accept others opinion even you do not really agree with. For instance, this can be avoided if you reply in a better/humble way

I never knew that. Perhaps you could tell me more about the moving violation?

Be appreciate and thankful when someone is trying to pass the knowledge to you. Trust me, you would not want to learn it the hard way.

  • How is that rebellious? As far as I know, that's the only way to "become familiar with something"; you can read about it all you want, but unless you're a lawyer, or a drunk, or an excessive speeder, you have no reason to be familiar with that.
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 1:18
  • 2
    I kind of get where OP's father is coming from, but his statement seems comparable to expecting someone to know the difference between first- and second-degree murder (or manslaughter). You might know that you should not murder people, but that's not to say it's particularly useful to know the exact legal classification of some given instance of murder. That is, unless you are charged with murder, which, to me, is exactly what OP's response is getting at (albeit somewhat sarcastically). @leeand00
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:52
  • 1
    Rebellious in how you reply your father. He is your father, you do not need to be sarcastic to him.
    – Revol729
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 8:57

Perhaps what you may be running into are people that think you are lacking showing initiative to inform yourself. While I understand that you may not have been taught the months, by 11 (which I was in 6th grade and most are), if you wanted to know, you were capable of knowing just by asking or looking. I homeschool my kids and they know months in order, but I never drilled them on it. They ask things like, when this or that will happen, I tell them, they show interest in tracking how far away that is, and checking to see how many days have passed since they last checked, etc. Likewise, by this age now, if you were interested in understanding traffic law, you would be able to find out what is and is not a moving violation. I would anticipate an adult would know what a moving violation is or a traffic violation. I've never had one either, but I truly don't think you should need to get a ticket for speeding to know this.

I am not suggesting people should be rude to you when you do not know something. I am simply saying some people will show more patience in those situations than other people will. I am one that can show lack of patience to certain people. I have a sibling that I have spent a lifetime being amazed by what they do not know. I can't even imagine why they don't know. I know I have lacked patience at times and I have even asked if we even grew up in the same family. I am just stunned at times by the difference in what I know and what they don't and can't fathom why.

  • I didn't know what I didn't know at that point...to take a line from Donald Rumsfield. You can't want to know what you don't know anything at all about. Also, this was not in the information age...there were no cellphones, PDAs, etc...there were computers, but they generally didn't display calenders...or at least not to me when I was in 6th grade. I knew my days of the week...
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 14:46
  • 1
    I completely agree. There are times I have been kicked by a fact I didn't even know I had a question about. I get that. I was only speaking to perhaps you can help some of this if you can focus on giving the impression you are seeking knowledge. People tend to get irritated if they perceive anything as willful ignorance.
    – threetimes
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 18:43
  • Yeah that's a pretty good answer as to why they get angry at me; they jump to the conclusion that I'm attempting to be willfully ignorant.
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 20:16

Let's start with (to me) the most obvious thing. The second response, and he's mad at you? That says a lot - either something is really missing from this story, or you have a really crappy relationship. Your defensive response (apologizing for being boring) makes me think that you don't have a good relationship.

I don't see in your story where he called you "mind-boggingly ignorant". That also leads me to think that there's something going on here - either you are reading WAY too much into his responses, or your responses to date have shown a lack of knowledge that he expects. I also look at your response to Hamlet - there's something in there that implies your opinion on your life vs your father's. You even mention "inflated egos" and I assume you apply that to your father as well.

You're not going to like this, but I'm going to say it anyway: I'd recomment to start by showing some humility with your father, which I don't read here. I'm reading only defensiveness and a certain sense of having a better education. So he grew up "almost on a farm". I'd challenge you to take up farming for a couple months. How do you recognize when a cow is in heat, and what do you do about it? When do you harvest corn, and what strain do you plant? What do you use hay vs straw for? How many crops of hay can you get in a year in your area? When do you sell your crops? What is the difference between "A" milk and "B" milk, and what do you do to change the grade of your milk? Any person with exposure to farming would know this and why it's important. I don't know that you know it or not but the point is that there is specialized knowledge in agriculture as in any profession.

Enough of busting your chops and back to the question. Rather than getting defensive, a simple answer of something to the extent of "I honestly don't know" and moving on is simple and much better than an apology for being boring. In this case, even saying "you know, I am not sure about the law here. What is a moving violation?" would defuse some tension. No one expects you to know everything but being willing to learn helps you learn more things.

  • Realizing I'm commenting on my own post... The point I'm trying to make (poorly) is that there appears to be a larger problem at work here and I submit your relationship as a whole would benefit from a third party's assistance. Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 1:57
  • I don't have any relatives left with farms.
    – leeand00
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 22:33

It may not be what you're looking for, but what you really need in these situations is a combination of patience and humor.

You know that you were not in the wrong in the situations you mention here, which means they were in the wrong for going off on you. Since both of these are authority figures, you couldn't really get angry back at them (or show them your anger), or you would lose a bit of that righteousness. But what else is there, right?

  • Though it sounds counterintuitive, doing nothing at all is an action, and it is the correct action. Learning to be patient with these people will greatly benefit you – they are everywhere, and we all have to deal with this kind of thing on a regular basis.
  • Also, while you won't want to laugh right in their faces (well, you might want to, but...), it could also be very helpful to learn to see the humor in these situations. As you're sitting in the principal's office, there's no reason not to chuckle about the absurdity of the teacher's response. Well, don't chuckle right when the principal is talking to you, of course.

These really are lifelong skills that will serve you every single day.

  • Yeah I've used that in the past to diffuse such situations, but the problem with that is that you can't #1 see the situation coming and #2 the people who cause such situations tend to be rather serious.
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 0:55
  • @leeand00, my advice does not require advance notice. On the other point, you cannot control their actions, only your own. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 1:21
  • Can you please tag this question authority-figure?
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 1:30
  • It does require advanced notice...I have to be able to think about the conversation first. But a conversation isn't like that, it's rapid fire; you're not allowed to think, or the person will get bored, that's just how humans are.
    – leeand00
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 1:34
  • 1
    I think you're referring to a different answer. My first suggestion is literally to do nothing, be patient. Second, find the humor in it – meaning, in your mind, while you are NOT replying. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 1:40

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