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"If you gotta ask, you'll never know."
Louis Armstrong, defining Jazz
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This trope occurs when one character asks for information and another character simply refuses. The Only Way They Will Learn is to discover the answer for themselves. Just telling them would defeat the purpose.

This trope is often used by The Mentor and its subtropes. It is all fine and dandy to teach them how to do whatever it is that they teach, but the student eventually has to find their own answers. The Trickster Mentor enjoys keeping him in the dark, of course, but also because it would mean nothing if they just told the student the solution to the mystery. Likewise, the Zen Survivor works exactly like this, because some things cannot be explained, only realized and understood.

If the person is The Chooser of The One it may be a test to see if the character is in fact worthy of the title of chosen one. It could also be that finding the Call Reception Area is part of how one proves their worth to the Sword of Plot Advancement in the center of it; being told how to get there instantly disqualifies them.

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In other cases, characters who really shouldn't have any motives to keep this information secret from the character do this. Though they frequently claim that making the hero work through things by himself is a necessary learning experience, it may be just because the writers need to pad out the season.

It is commonly uttered by Time Travellers since solving people's problems for them would change history... except when it doesn't or already has or or makes everything implode. Time Travel is funny that way. So no straight-answers from your future-self, or whatever.

An Oracular Urchin will get out of de-cryptifying their Cryptic Conversation this way. Likewise heroes and super heroes with a Secret Legacy might be overjoyed to find out they're not the black sheep of their family, but wonder why mom and dad never helped out before.

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This trope is used in almost exactly the same places and situations as "You Are Not Ready", with the implication that the act of working the information out is the only way to make yourself worthy of it. This is the intellectual version of Helping Would Be Kill Stealing. See Be as Unhelpful as Possible for characters trying to avoid incrimination. Often couched within a Cryptic Conversation. Can cross over with This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself, if these mentors prevent others from aiding the hero. Compare Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer.


Example:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • At no point in AIKI does Kunitoshi ever give a straightforward lesson on anything. The most he does is tell you when you've screwed up. On the other hand, should someone manage to get started on their own, he does give them legitimate advice on the next steps.
  • Bleach: Soken Ishida refuses to explain his son Ryuken's Refusal of the Call to his grandson Uryu. Instead, he tells Uryu that he has to learn for himself the secret of what Ryuken wants to protect. Sadly, this approach didn't work out for the Ishidas, since Uryu has now joined up with the very people Ryuken was hoping to protect him from.
  • This is C.C.'s favourite trope in Code Geass, aside from being a Sugar-and-Ice Personality. She was in league with the Protagonist's parents, but switched sides after some soul-searching. Mostly, she's willing to help out a lot from behind the scenes, whilst leaving Lelouch to learn lessons on his own.
  • In Haruhi Suzumiya, both Asahina Mikuru and Nagato Yuki give Kyon very incomplete information about how to... save the world from Haruhi. Kyon puts both clues together at nearly the last minute to do just so. Justified to some extent because both Asahina and Nagato are constrained by rules.
  • My Hero Academia uses this with protagonist Izuku Midoriya's super-power One For All. Though the previous wielder All Might mentors Izuku and teaches him what he can, ultimately he encourages Izuku to figure out his own way of using it — especially because when Izuku imitates All Might's fighting style, he ends up breaking his bones and risking permanent, crippling injuries. Eventually he does find his own way, which he dubs "One For All Full Cowl", which involves spreading about 5% the power evenly throughout his own body rather than doing 100% all-or-nothing attacks; he also adopts a kick-heavy fighting style to avoid risking more strain to his arms.
  • Naruto:
    • Jiraiya tells this to Naruto when he is training him on how to use the Rasengan, that Naruto will have to work out how to pop the balloons and complete all three stages of mastering the jutsu by himself. Notably, Naruto also improvises a way to do the first stage while circumventing the most difficult part which Jiraiya didn't expect at all.
    • Also, during a Cryptic Conversation over a game of shogi, Asuma asks Shikamaru what part of Konoha the King represents. Only with his last breath does he reveal the identity of the King: the new generation.
    • Kabuto revives some fairly powerful kages during the 4th shinobi world war, controlling their bodies but allowing them to speak normally to their opponents, who they would otherwise want to be allied with. One of them, the Second Mizukage, gets tired of explaining his techniques (or rather, tired of his opponents utterly failing to make effective use of the explanations), and eventually states that if they're not strong enough to figure it out on their own and seal him, they don't deserve to win.
  • In One Piece, Robin asks Rayleigh, first mate of the Roger Pirates, whether Roger found out what happened in the 100-Year Void, the truth detailed in the Rio Poneglyph she's been looking for most of her life. He advises her to continue her journey, suggesting that she might come to an entirely different conclusion than he did, saying that they, as mere pirates, could not hope to understand the true history as well as the scholars of Ohara did. He still offers to tell her if she wants to know, but she politely declines.
  • Despite the obvious worry of Princess Nine's lead about the truth of her late father cheating in a baseball game, none of the characters who admit to knowing will tell her. She is later inexplicably convinced by her own bizarre dream sequence.
  • In Saiyuki, the main character, as a Sanzo priest, is supposed to give advice and provide an example of how to live your life. Sanzo rejects this as hypocritical and useless. He therefore takes a "figure it out yourself" stance on LIFE. The one time he does give a lecture on Buddhist ideology (his personal favorite, "if you meet the buddha, kill the buddha") it is a HUGE deal.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Doctor Strange usually takes this approach, preferring to be cryptic and do little more than nudge someone in the right direction, before letting them figure it out. However, if the situation is serious enough, he will outright inform people of exactly what they need to do.
    • Harry's older alternate counterpart, 'Nathan', takes this approach when dealing with his younger self when they meet, refusing to spoon-feed him, only elaborating once Harry's well on the right track. That said, this is partly because he's not entirely sure how much of his future applies to Harry's timeline, since their timelines diverged years before the start of the series.
  • Kyoko Kirigiri's attitude in Danganronpa (mentioned below) is satirized mercilessly in Danganronpa Parody.
    Kyoko: Hmm, this is going to be a really challenging one, so I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to help you out this time.
    Makoto: This time? When did you even help me out the first time?
  • Due to dimensions breaking down in Dimensional Links, the Link from Majora's Mask (called Mask) and the Link from Ocarina of Time (called Ocarina) encounter and travel with one another. Since Mask is a future Ocarina, he refuses to tell Ocarina too much about his future, partially because of paradoxes, and partially because it's not fair for Ocarina to get hints when Mask didn't.
    Mask: If I had to beat up the creep on my own, so do you.
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality features this in to some degree in the form of both the Patronus and the True Patronus. While some instruction can be helpful for both, the feeling you use to fuel the spell must be organic and something meaningful to you in particular. The True Patronus is even more extreme in this regard, which makes Harry unwilling to share its secret with others, as it requires knowledge of the true nature of dementors. However, knowing the true nature of dementors renders you permanently unable to cast the normal version of the Patronus charm, and because of the nature of the True Patronus, you need a particular mindset to cast it which most people lack. Harry realizes after casting the True Patronus that he wasn't the first person to figure out the true nature of dementors, but those who had figured it out previously had kept quiet about it to avoid destroying people's ability to cast the ordinary version of the charm.
  • In Juxtapose, Katsuki realizes early on that Izuku's Quirk has more potential than he knows, but refuses to tell him since it'd be pointless if he didn't figure out himself.
  • My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic: The shtick with Inquirius. All she can do is talk in questions, which gets redundant when she starts talking like that even in regular conversation. This sounds familiar somehow...
  • Jiraiya's habit of invoking this is deconstructed in Sucker Bet. Repeatedly telling this to Naruto, (who as in canon, has been emotionally neglected and ostracized for his entire life), only severely discourages the boy, and stunts his learning. When the toads later train Naruto, give him positive feedback, listen to his questions, and they achieve much better results.
  • This Bites!: In Chapter 43, after the events of Enies Lobby, Cross intercepts Kuzan on his way to the party and learns of his motivation for what he did. It ends with Kuzan, now unsure of what to do with himself, asking Cross what he should do. And Cross's response, predictably, is a "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    Cross: (scowling) Get up off your ass and figure it out yourself.
    Soundbite: HAVE YOU LOST YOUR(Cross grabs his tongue) WHEGH!
    Kuzan: Excuse me?
    Cross: You heard me! Figure it. Out. Yourself. You say you've seen the truth, you say you want to change? Well, I call bullshit! Look at you! Even now, you're being a lazy bastard, relying on others to do your thinking for you, to give you all the answers you need. You think that someone's just going to stand up and act as your inspiration, your beacon of righteousness? Weeeeell tough, because that shit officially stops with me. I'm not giving you squat, Kuzan. You want your epiphany, you want a path to a better world? Then you get up, you find it and you pave it with your own hands, with your own blood, sweat and tears… just like what everyone else on the planet does every. Single. Day.
  • After the four retrieve the first piece of the Vasyn in With Strings Attached and the Fans “call” to congratulate them, George asks why his ring stuck, and Ringo asks whether he actually teleported or the Fans saved him. Jeft says ~THESE ARE NOT THINGS WE CAN TELL YOU. YOU MUST FIND OUT FOR YOURSELVES.~ To which George, reasonably enough, cries “Rubbish! How're we supposed to find this bloody thing for you if our magic goes haywire for no reason?” Shag is equally annoyed at Jeft for holding out on the four, and answers their questions for them. (At which Jeft sniffs, ~ARE WE QUITE FINISHED SPOILING MYSTERIES?~) Immediately after they leave the four, Jeft gives Shag a series of good reasons why he didn't want to answer the questions. She grudgingly agrees that he was right and she was wrong. His reasons are all garbage; he really did want to preserve the mysteries in the story, since it's all a game he cooked up.

    Films — Animation 
  • This is a major theme in Kung Fu Panda, and shows up twice. The first is when Po, a geeky kung fu fan, is chosen as the new Dragon Warrior, rather than one of the extremely skilled and disciplined Furious Five. When Master Shifu complains about this choice to Grand Master Oogway, Oogway merely smiles and tells Shifu that he'll have to figure out why Po was selected for himself (it doesn't help that Oogway is literally on his deathbed for this conversation, so there's no chance of extracting further information). The second is the climax of the film: the whole purpose of choosing the Dragon Warrior is to give that individual the mysterious Dragon Scroll, which contains the ultimate secret of being a kung fu master. When Po finally opens the scroll, it reveals... a blank, reflective surface. Though he, Shifu, and the Furious Five initially believe this to be a trick, Po eventually deduces that the entire point of the Dragon Scroll is that kung fu mastery comes from within—the scroll's surface is meant to show the face of the Warrior and encourage them to turn to self-reflection for strength. Po uses this newfound knowledge to defeat Big Bad Tai Lung with the legendary Wuxi Finger Hold; Po brags that he didn't need to be taught the Hold, as he figured out how to do it in his own way.
  • In Rise of the Guardians, this seems to be the case with the Man in the Moon, particularly in his "interactions" with Jack. Also, he seems to have a very hands-off relationship with the Guardians as a whole.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • The cheela (neutron-star dwelling beings) of Dragon's Egg live much faster lives than humans, and advance at a much faster rate (it takes them roughly one day to advance from their equivalent of Sumeria to their equivalent of Rome). When a human spaceship shows up and even further boosts their rate of technological advancement (by essentially beaming Wikipedia at them), they feel the need to pay them back when they (again within a day or two) advance far past human technology. However, they can't just tell us everything; instead, everything they know is encrypted with keys that are based on the knowledge contained inside. So, for example, the unlock the section on faster-than-light travel, humans will need to find a pyramid on a body around Epsilon Eridani...which is about 10 light years away from the Sun. Their reasons aren't really explored, but they seem to feel that simply telling us will deprive us of the benefits of figuring it out ourselves.
  • The Dresden Files: Wizards and beings of certain places have this mentality when it comes to those in their care. Many of Harry Dresden's Wizard allies are centuries older than him and have a lot of knowledge chronicled inside. They, however, keep it close to the vest, preferring Harry to learn things on his own and earn the knowledge the hard way. Even the Archangel of the Lord Uriel doesn't even tell Harry he has been blessed with access to Soulfire, the Fires of Creation, in order to balance an action of Lucifer's, how to use it, or the consequences of using it too much. Note that this burns away his very soul but it is recoverable if he does good things. Uriel must abide by God's Laws to protect Freewill and Harry's own choices, so if being told something will change his choice, Uriel cannot do it.
  • This trope defines the plot of book four of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The king of the Enchanted Forest carries a magical sword that Only the Chosen May Wield, the chosen being a member of the king's bloodline. This becomes a problem when the current king is trapped in a magical prison and the only thing that can free him is... Yep, the sword. The good news is that the king, before he was imprisoned, fathered a son, who should by rights be able to wield the sword. The bad news is that that son is only a baby. To make matters worse, the Wizards, who imprisoned the king, can track the sword when it's being carried by someone who knows what it is. The solution: wait for the son to grow up, give him the sword, and point him in the direction of the prison in the hope that he will figure out what he has to do himself. Consequently, most everyone he encounters knows more about his quest than he does, but can't tell him anything for fear of the Wizards finding him.
  • In The Gods Themselves, the nature of Soft One maturation requires that the Rational work out the species' life cycle on his own. Simply telling him how it works prevents him from reaching the level of mental development needed to actually cause the final maturation.
  • A rare Tear Jerker example of this in Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, when the protagonist finally meets his beloved mother (who tragically died) in a dream:
    And I knew that she could tell me anything I wanted to know (life, death, past, future) even though it was already there, in her smile, the answer to all questions, the before-Christmas smile of someone with a secret too wonderful to let slip, just yet: well, you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?
  • Harry Potter: Most of Harry's interactions with Dumbledore revolve around measured dispensing and denying of plot critical information — all as a "learning experience".
    • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Dumbledore admits that this was a bad idea. But even then, he still doesn't tell Harry what a Horcrux is, even though he has excellent reasons to do so (Harry doesn't think finding out about them is that important; if he knew what they were, it might move up his priority list).
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
      • He implies to Snape that he kept secrets from Harry so that Voldemort wouldn't know through their Psychic Link.
      • While the Power Trio is on the road trying to figure out what they have to do, Hermione suggests this trope as a rationale for why they had to do something while Lampshade Hanging how little sense it makes. Later on, when Harry turns the same rationale on her for a different goal, she admits that she didn't really believe it and was just trying to get her way in the first place. Of course, Harry turns out right anyway.
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar book Owlflight, Darian and his teacher Firesong K'Treva have a brief falling-out over this, as Firesong and Darian have had such completely different childhoods that Darian simply doesn't have the knowledge or background required to figure out Firesong's type of magic for himself.
  • His Dark Materials: Lyra cannot be told anything about her destiny but has to complete it naturally on her own... Because Destiny Says So, literally...
  • This is how Elodin teaches naming in The Kingkiller Chronicle. It basically consists of doing random things for stupid reasons, letting the students figure out how to name stuff.
  • In the second book of The Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire, Lisbeth tells only cryptic clues to Mikael while he is trying to investigate the murders she is accused of and clear her name.
  • Richard's companions in Neverwhere pointedly refuse to explain most of London Below, on the premise that it's dangerous to know too much. Richard nearly dies several times due to lack of forewarning, at which point his "friends" chide him for not knowing information they withheld.
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, both King Azaz and the Mathemagician tell Milo that there is a great secret regarding his quest to rescue the Princesses of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason from the Castle in the Air, but further explain that they can't tell him that secret until he comes back successfully. When he does, the two admit the secret about the quest: "It was impossible. Completely impossible." Milo is understandably stunned, but the rulers explain that if they'd told him that, he would have given up; it was only by daring to do something difficult that he was able to succeed in the first place.
    • The book's overall message is An Aesop about the importance of learning not to be right, but for learning's sake. When Milo meets the Princesses, he admits that he's made countless mistakes along the way and can't see the point in them—or of learning things in general. Reason teaches him that the secret—and importance—of making mistakes to figure out for one's self what is the right and wrong thing to do, and that they're only a problem if you've learned what is right and choose to do what's wrong regardless. Rhyme offers a further explanation about the importance of learning seemingly unimportant things: "It's learning what you do with what you learn and learning why you learn things at all that matters." In other words, true wisdom and intelligence come not from regurgitating information, but figuring out what parts of that information to keep, and then deducing for yourself how to apply that newfound knowledge.
  • L.E. Modesitt's Saga of Recluce series has a particularly ridiculous case of this. Order mages are usually "trained" by giving them a near-incomprehensible textbook and sending them off into danger. Why? Because, for no apparent reason, actually explaining things prevents mages from applying what they were told. Even though the explanations make perfect sense to the reader. Of course, the ordermages who are "trained" in this fashion usually either refused to learn the normal way or are the first ordermages in the area. In addition, the people doing the exiling do it primarily to protect everyone else on the island, and the "textbook" is the semi-incoherent journal of one of the former exiles.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In The Thrawn Trilogy, the eponymous antagonist uses this after dropping a few oblique hints so a smuggler captain he wants to come to a particular conclusion doesn't get suspicious.
    • A version of this trope is brought up in Starfighters of Adumar, when Wedge Antilles does not want to kill the Proud Warrior Race guys he's having to fight, but can't tell them why because he's trying to sway their government, and outright stating that he finds their way of life repulsive won't win the New Republic any favors.
      Hobbie: Do to them what you do to us at times like that. [...] Tell them what you're doing but not why. Then let them speculate. Listen to them as they speculate. When they come up with an idea you really, really like, tell them "You finally guessed right. That was my reasoning all along."
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • This is Miles Vorkosigan's standard response whenever someone asks him how to do something he's asked them to do, when he doesn't know how to do it himself.
    • Emperor Gregor also makes Mark Vorkosigan figure it out himself in Mirror Dance. As Mark says (using asking someone for the time of day as a metaphor):
      Gregor would hint obliquely where I might look for a crono.
  • Everybody in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. If the good guys didn't universally have a habit of not sharing information with each other (along with other tragic flaws), the series really would have been a trilogy. Of course, this is intentional, as one of the major themes of the series is the problems caused by poor communication and unwillingness to talk.
  • This is a running theme in Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. Magic itself runs on this rule: while new wizards receive magical books that contain all they need to know about magic, the books largely operate on a "need to know" basis (beyond an introduction as to the basic rules of the system)—they're Bigger on the Inside and will produce the information a wizard needs at that time, but only just enough to get the mage started on their quest; the rest they have to do on their own. One of the recurring quotes in the series is this exchange: "Did I do right?" "Go find out..."
    • This is applied in a larger sense with the "Ordeal," a frightening and perilous test that every wizard must undergo when they first take the magical Oath that gives them their powers. No one is ever given any sort of warning as to when, where, or how the Ordeal will take place—only that it will be some form of battle against the Lone Power, the Anthropomorphic Personification of death, entropy, and destruction in the series. There is no rhyme or reason as to what form the Ordeal will take, either, or what task the mage will have to complete to pass (the third book reveals a Noodle Incident in which one wizard completed their test by inviting the Lone Power to dinner). It's entirely up to the wizard (or wizards) in question to figure out what they have to do and how to do it, and then complete that task without dying.

    Live-Action TV 
  • During The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.., this was usually the reply Brisco got when asking questions about the Orb to anyone who was actually in a position to know something.
  • Angel: "You're Welcome". Cordelia wakes from her coma to help Angel and company rediscover their true calling:
    Cordelia: You just forgot who you are.
    Angel: Remind me.
    Cordelia: Oh no, that's for you to figure out, bubba.
  • In an episode of the 2000s Continuity Reboot of Battlestar Galactica when the character Six gets Baltar to tell Commander Adama he needs an atom bomb to find possible Cylons, and Six tells him, "figure out the rest yourself." Of course, it was this very bomb that enabled the Cylons to find the humans once they had settled on New Caprica.
  • Blake's 7:
    • Master Computer Zen refuses to tell the protagonists how to work the instruments on the Liberator, but implies that they must learn through experience. This means they nearly get killed working out What Does This Button Do? to operate the teleport system or pilot the alien spaceship. However it's later revealed that the Liberator was built by another Master Computer that later enslaved its own creators, so Zen would be aware of the consequences of people becoming too dependent on their machines.
    • Magical Computer Orac similarly showed this attitude in "Stardrive". He was shown a video of several ships exploding, immediately saw why they were exploding but refused to tell anyone because he was "not interested in attempting to compensate for [their] amazing lack of observation" thereby forcing them to watch the video frame-by-frame until they found it.
  • It's also the case for several characters on Fringe, particularly the Observersnote , although Sam Weiss gets a few good moments in seasons 2 and 3.
  • A complaint often leveled at the characters in Lost; they all really need to be more forthcoming with answers and persistent in the asking of questions.
  • Monk is having problems with his assistant Sharona and is very annoyed when he realises his psychiatrist knows how to fix it but is using this trope.
    Adrian Monk: I wanna make sure I understand this. I have a problem... you know the answer...
    Dr. Charles Kroger: That's right.
    Adrian Monk: I'm paying you...
    Dr. Charles Kroger: That's right.
    Adrian Monk: ...but you won't tell me.
    Dr. Charles Kroger: That's right. Adrian, the answer is inside you.
    Adrian Monk: No, doctor, the... answer is inside you. If you told me, I would hear it, and then the answer would be inside me!
  • Dimitria spent the first half of Power Rangers Turbo doing this (her species could only talk in questions, supposedly, though fellow "Inquirian" Visceron didn't have this problem), only to drop this practice when the four veteran Rangers — probably more experienced at this sort of thing than she was — were retired and replaced, at which point she got a lot more direct.
  • Lampshaded in an early episode of Red Dwarf, with the "Holly Hop Drive".
    Lister: It's just a box, with "STOP" and "START" on it!
    Holly: It's fairly straightforward. If you want to start it you press "START", and you can work out the rest of the controls for yourself.
  • Dr. Cox has this attitude very often with all of his interns/residents on Scrubs, although it is possible that this is because, as doctors, they need to be able to perform procedures/diagnoses in order to become effective medical staff. Or, possibly, because he's a jerk.
  • It's a recurring part of the Ancients' schtick in Stargate SG-1, and a lot of what makes the Tollans so annoying. Nicely explained concerning the issue of ascension: the Ancients believe people should learn how to do it themselves (after all, they did), while the Ori promise to ascend followers for them (which is actually a lie, but no-one knew it at the time). While Daniel is usually frustrated by the Ancients and their lack of helpfulness (they are Neglectful Precursors and don't even clean up messes they made, let alone help in other basic non-ascension ways), he once spoke in their defense to stop people from following the Ori:
    Daniel: You're right. Maybe... hoarding knowledge is wrong. Or maybe it's not. Maybe learning something for yourself is part of the journey to enlightenment.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In one episode, a visitor from the future arrives on the Enterprise right at the time when Picard has to make a decision with the fate of an entire planet at stake. Picard asks the time traveler for help, but he naturally refuses, pointing out that influence past decisions would risk destroying his own timeline. In an interesting subversion, it turns out that the time traveler actually refused because he had no idea what was going to happen. He was actually from the past and had stolen the time machine.
    • In another episode, Counselor Troi is attempting to complete the Bridge Officer Exam but ends up failing three times. Confused as to if the test is an Unwinnable Training Simulation or a Secret Test of Character, she approaches Riker for some sort of hint. However, he refuses to say anything, telling her that the ship comes before anyone else and if they don't understand this, then they don't have a place taking the test. It turns out, however, that Riker actually had hinted at the answer; she just had to understand what he was telling her.
    • In the Series Finale "All Good Things...", Picard asks Q what he's really saying about humanity. Q begins to whisper something in his ear, then changes his mind, smiling broadly and bidding Picard farewell.
      Q: In any case, I'll be watching. And if you're very lucky, I'll drop by to say hello from time to time. See you... out there!
    • This was also a theme in the Series Finale as a whole. Q gives Picard a few hints, but by and large, Picard is left to figure out the cause of the anomaly and what to do about it.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Meet the New Boss", the Winchesters try to bind the Grim Reaper to force him to dispatch a rogue angel who achieved godhood. They eventually fail, but Death doesn't immediately vaporize them. Instead he goes out of his way to create another eclipse so that the Winchesters can reverse the ritual that started all this mess and tells them to compel the angel to do it, but emphasizes that it's not a Cosmic Entity's job to save one tiny planet every time it's on the edge of disaster.
    Dean: "Compel"?
    Death: Figure it out.

    Puppet Shows 

    Video Games 
  • In a meta example, a number of video games have secrets that must be found in order to get 100% Completion, or even just to get the most out of the game. While the companies would rather encourage players to invoke this trope, unfortunately, there's a reason why the Guide Dang It! trope exists...
  • Baldur's Gate
    • Elminster refuses to reveal the big secret behind the protagonist's past he's been hinting at, declaring that "self-discovery is best left to the self."
    • This could potentially be invoked in the first game of the series with a certain dialogue choice. The protagonist may encounter Portalbendarwinden, a crazy old hermit living between Beregost and Nashkel. If the protagonist asks him for advice, Portalbendarwinden says a bunch of nonsense in the style of a Talkative Loon. The game then gives the protagonist the choice to go over the edge and demand that Portalbendarwinden give them a straight answer, lest they do something unspeakably terrible to him. Unfortunately, as much fun as it is to pick this option, it doesn't end well. After the rant's over, Portalbendarwinden does give them a straight answer, in the form of telling the protagonist that they're a jerk and that he's not talking to them anymore, at which point Portalbendarwinden vanishes.
      "Okay, I've just about had my FILL of riddle-asking, quest-assigning, insult-throwing, pun-hurling, hostage-taking, iron-mongering, smart-arsed fools, freaks, and felons that continually test my will, mettle, strength, intelligence, and most of all, patience! If you've got a straight answer ANYWHERE in that bent little head of yours, I want to hear it pretty damn quick or I'm going to take a large blunt object roughly the size of Elminster AND his hat, and stuff it lengthwise into a crevice of your being so seldom seen that even the denizens of the nine hells themselves wouldn't touch it with a twenty-foot rusty halberd! Have I MADE myself perfectly CLEAR?!"
  • This is integral to Jonathan Blow's approach to designing games. He says he enjoys the "aha!" moment when he finally works out how to progress in a game, and wants people who play his games to experience that pleasure for themselves, refusing to release walkthroughs or help guides for that reason. He's also said that this is why he doesn't enjoy playing most games, because they tell him exactly how to play.
  • The Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne are rather notorious for this. The games will only go so far as to explain the basic controls, but in terms of telling you where to go or how to fight the bosses, well, you'll have to figure that out yourself. Over and over and over...
  • Dragon Age: Origins. If Loghain is a party member, and you decide not to take him with you to defeat the Archdemon, he puzzles why you spared his life if you had no intention of forcing him to kill the archdemon as an alternative to self-sacrifice, one of your answers is that someday he'll realize why. If you choose the Heroic Sacrifice, it's doubly poignant.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • At one point in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, when Lightning tires of her riddles and wordplay and outright asks Lumina what the hell she's talking about, Lumina's response is that Lightning has to figure it out herself or else it won't mean anything. Considering that Lumina is actually an aspect of Lightning's personality that she cast off, this isn't necessarily off the mark.
    • Final Fantasy X has Auron say pretty much exactly this.
      Rikku: Hey, you know something, don't you? Spill the beans!
      Auron: Look not to others for knowledge. This is your journey, too.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Inverted in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Axel explicitly offers Sora a hint as to what's going on in Castle Oblivion, but Sora turns him down, stating that he'd rather figure it out himself.
    • Granted, in 358/2 Days, Axel gives Roxas the exact opposite treatment.
    • Played straight in Kingdom Hearts though, when Sora asks Hercules what it takes to be a true hero.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, Rean tells Altina that she has to figure out what school club to join for herself after she asks him to simply assign her one, or else it won't mean anything. Later, if you do her bonding event, he relents somewhat by helping her to do some of the legwork, but tells her that the final decision still has to be hers.
  • In Mother 3, this is more-or-less what Wess tells Duster when sending him to get the Egg of Light. Naturally, being told only to get a shiny thing in the nearby ancient castle, with no more details than that, backfires, but Wess simply blames Duster for the mistake.
  • Myst: The entirety of Riven is an instance of Figure It Out Yourself. Atrus is too busy to explain the situation before sending you off, so he gives you a wondrously cryptic journal, assuring you that "most of what you'll need to know is in there". He does mention that he can't supply you with an escape hatch, "for reasons you'll discover". And he tells you to signal him when you've accomplished your mission, but doesn't tell you how...
  • An old game on the Apple II called Nightmare #6 started off with the text: "The object of the game is to figure out the object of the game."
  • In the Interactive Fiction game The PK Girl, Katryn makes a very big point of giving you exactly half of the information you need and letting you win the rest of the story yourself. Of course, she's a Femme Fatale and a Magnificent Bitch, and while she has her own agenda, using you as her catspaw is her way of testing you to see if you're worthy to take over ROSA.
  • In Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong the player has the option of saying this to the Big Bad as she attempts to understand how a mortal would know the rules and customs of the Yama Kings and thus utterly defeat her. Given the situation she's in, it's clear the Player Character is doing it purely to troll her.
  • The Six Ages deity Hyalor is the god of leadership, but part of leadership is trusting your people to do the right thing, not interrupting them all the time to micromanage. So when his clan asked him how they would live after the exodus, Hyalor smiled and showed them a blank tablet. The clan became grateful for this later, when they realized that without the blank tablet/freedom they would never have discovered their own strength(s) and instead relied on Hyalor for everything.
  • The Star Tablet keepers of the Suikoden series tend to do this a lot, much to said Stars' annoyance. Most notably, Zerase and her Expy Zenoa, who practically brag about their knowledge and ridicule you for asking questions of them.
  • Somewhat amusingly, when Yuan from Tales of Symphonia says this to the party, it's mostly just that he's too impatient to bother explaining all the details.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the case of the Ace Attorney series, it's obvious what the real reason is that Phoenix Wright (and Apollo) have to figure everything out for themselves. After all, it wouldn't be much of a game if they kept telling you how to solve the problems. In-universe, however, it's kind of strange how everyone, including his mentor Mia, refuses to give any advice at trials more helpful than sometimes-vague hints. Apparently, Phoenix's growth as a lawyer is more important than making sure his innocent client doesn't get convicted of murder, even if that client is Mia's little sister.
    • Phoenix in fact questions Mia's motive for being so secretive about the outcome on one occasion. In the second case of Justice for All, she tells him that if he can't answer her questions, he won't stand a chance against Franziska in court.
    • Miles Edgeworth tells Phoenix in Justice for All that he has to decide for himself what being an attorney means. It's suggested that he doesn't tell Phoenix what he considers to be the right answer — to reveal the truth — because Maya is being held hostage to force Phoenix to get an acquittal for his very-much-guilty client.
    • Ema Skye uses the phrase directly in the 4th game, regarding Phoenix's loss of his badge.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Kirigiri and Togami both pull this regularly. Kirigiri justifies it with the idea that Naegi needs to learn how to solve cases on his own in case anything happens to her, while also wanting to avoid her preconceived notions influencing the investigation. Perhaps more pragmatically, she also has to worry about giving out more than anyone needs to know on the off-chance that one of the other students might be the Big Bad (which turns out to be the case, just not in the way she thought). Togami, meanwhile... he's just a Jerkass who wants to flaunt his intellect in a show of power, since to him the game is a life-or-death struggle that he intends to win. In the second case he actively hinders the investigation in order to smoke out people smart enough to be a threat to him.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, this is Ellen's approach to help Elliot realize what kind of relationship he truly wants. This is partly on the grounds that they've had some time to diverge since Ellen's initial creation, so Ellen's feelings on the matter aren't necessarily going to be the same as Elliot's, and partly on the grounds that if he doesn't figure it out himself, he'll just fight it whether it's true or not.
  • In Homestuck, Karkat is extremely reluctant to explain anything of use to John, even though it would be immensely helpful. This is because he's organising the conversations in a reverse temporal fashion (his first talk with John is John's last, and vice versa). Thus, he's already explained those facts and doesn't want to repeat himself every time, which means John either figures it out himself, gets the information from another source (which pisses Karkat off) or waits until Karkat is finally good and ready to explain. When Karkat later trolls Jade, she enforces a password system for the explicit purpose of not letting him do this.
  • After Joyce from It's Walky! asks The Cheese if God exists, his answer is a version of this.
  • A few of the Nukees comics that focus on the undergrads talk about this tendency in undergrad textbooks. "The book says, 'the reader can show how X becomes Y squared. I'm the reader! I can't show! The back of my ass! That's what I can show!"
  • In Sinfest, Buddha, in the best Zen tradition, offers a flower in response to a request for enlightenment.
  • Justified in Thunderstruck, with the Shackled Man. Basically, he can see all possible futures except events directly involving him. So if he tells anyone what he sees, and they act on it, he can't see what happens to them after that.

    Western Animation 
  • In Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix, this is implied uttered by the creator of the Omnitrix at the very end of the Made-for-TV Movie. Due to the very little learning experience Ben expresses, it's pretty much used to maintain the status quo. Of course, Azmuth doesn't tell him anything, anyway.
  • Dinosaur Train has this indirectly. It's strongly implied that the Conductor has always known that Buddy is a Tyrannosaurus Rex and could have just told him, but let him figure it out for himself because he knew it would mean more to him than for him to just tell him.
    Conductor: Yep. I had a feeling he was a T-Rex.
  • One episode of The Powerpuff Girls involves the people of Townsville taking the girls' help for granted. Fed up with their laziness, the girls try to teach Townsville to start taking care of their own problems. Their lesson semi-backfires though when the people proclaim that their don't need the girls anymore and throw a party after they manage to kill a monster. Even the narrator chews out the girls for no reason.
  • On Rugrats, Angelica could be found repeatedly reciting the Louis Armstrong quote to the babies. That just made the time they camped out a lot funnier. Angelica said, "We couldn't sleep 'cause of the Sachmo."
  • Mr. E from Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is this one. He hangs a lampshade in one episode when he wants to give a Riddle to Mystery Inc, but Shaggy demands a straight answer.
    Mr. E: Where's the fun in that?
  • In one episode of Xiaolin Showdown, Big Bad Wuya regains her physical form (with help from a Face–Heel Turn Raimundo), leaving the Xiaolin monks at a loss. Omi uses a Shen Gong Wu to travel back in time and ask Grand Master Dashi, who originally trapped Wuya in a puzzle box, to create a new seal for her. Dashi instead challenges Omi to a Xiaolin Showdown, tasking him to retrieve a pebble from him in an M.C. Escher-inspired staircase maze. All of Omi's martial arts training and skills fail to help, but just when time is about to run out, Dashi remarks that there's something he has not tried yet. Omi promptly asks for the pebble, which the sage happily gives him. Dashi goes on to explain that while he can create another puzzle box easily, it is up to Omi and the other Xiaolin monks to figure out how to use it properly—the whole point of the Showdown was to emphasize that moral.
    • This is also Master Fung's general teaching method. He frequently challenges the monks with particular tasks, such as completing an obstacle course, scaling a cliff, or recovering a jade sculpture from him, but nearly all of them turn out to be secret tests to encourage them to think for themselves and not rely on the magic power of the Shen Gong Wu for success. In the given cases: the obstacle course was a circle, and the proper thing to do was to simply turn around at the starting line and walk to the end, which was right behind the monks; the cliff could only be scaled by all the monks working together; and Master Fung destroyed the jade sculpture when the monks were close to retrieving it, explaining that while the monks' goal was to win, his was to not lose, which is a different thing entirely.

    Real Life 
  • The ancient philosopher Socrates believed in using a complex questioning method to engage with his opponents, instead of simply arguing for the ideas that he had in mind; this makes this Older Than Feudalism. This method of debate gets so mind-blowingly annoying that it may have had more than a little to do with why Socrates was eventually sentenced to death by the people of Athens. Part of the reason he was executed was because he annoyed (or rather, pissed off) the wrong people with his questions. The high and mighty didn't like being made fools of back then.
    • It can help people understand a concept more than if they were just told about it. By asking them questions, they can theorize and you can find out what they already know and what they need to be taught. It's also effective politically, if done well, in that the person you're doing this to will think they came up with your idea. And people will always accept things more easily if it's "their" idea.
    • It probably didn't help Socrates that (at least as portrayed by Plato) he rarely paid more than lip service to his own favored method of discourse. After an initial series of exchanges that show how hopelessly confused his opponent is regarding the matter at interest, the core questions from Socrates invariably go like: "And wouldn't you agree that such and such, and also that this and that, so because of fee fie foe it must be true that blah de blah?" The opponent is then reduced to meekly agreeing. Figure it out yourself, indeed.
      • During his lifetime, Socrates objected to the way Plato represented him. Plato basically treated Socrates as a mouthpiece for his ideas, or at the least, Socrates hated being forced to acknowledge his arrogant behavior.
  • In the card game Mao, it is against the rules to tell people about the rules. That is the only one of the rules that the people trying to get you to learn the game can tell you. You have to figure out everything else from how the people who know how to play are playing, and when you get penalized for getting something wrong. Oh, and a new rule is added by the winner of each round. This game is often described as a good glimpse into what trying to learn etiquette feels like for autistic people or people who have some sort of social learning disability.
  • A quote from physicist Richard Feynman: "What I cannot create, I do not understand".
  • Similar to the matrix example above, it's debated whether or not qualia can be accurately defined.
  • This is actually a large part of constructivism, a teaching philosophy that is becoming more common in today's schools and being driven into education majors’ heads by their instructors. Children are not simply told "This is how you solve a problem." Instead, they are guided through the process with questions and prompts from the teacher so that they can discover the answers themselves.
    • Doubly so in language learning, where the "Translation Method" (ie. using known language A to explain a word/phrase in unknown language B) can interfere with the mental modelling that would otherwise develop from struggling through language B by itself.
  • Zen Buddhism thrives on this, as the whole point of enlightenment is that it's something you have to pursue and figure out yourself. Therefore asking a master to explain something is more likely to get you a Koan or a seemingly unrelated demonstration than anything a layperson might consider useful.

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