Questions creating confusion
April 4, 2011 —
How much did the pirate’s earrings cost? About a buck an ear. I have been trying to decide if I should write a column about lady pirates or questions. I listened to a podcast recently about Mary Reed and Anne Bonny. They are interesting, so I encourage the reader to do some research on his or her own time. Anyhow, I am going to write about questions, but I didn’t want to abandon the pirate idea entirely.
I have been thinking a lot about the question “why?” lately. I like this one more than the other question words because it usually has to be answered in depth. When answering “why?” you usually have to draw on personal experiences, examples and think critically to formulate an appropriate response. Asking “why?” is so easy, a single word, but to answer is no simple task.
Since “why?” is such a difficult one to answer, it is almost taboo in our culture to ask. Asking it puts people on the defensive, thus it is better to stay quiet and smile. How incredibly unproductive is this though? If I am not allowed to ask it, how can I begin to understand? Asking questions should not be viewed as offensive, but an attempt on the behalf of the asker to reach better understanding.
We should be throwing around “why?” like cheap candy at a parade. It is important to ask it because that is how we will understand. If we don’t ask others this question, we are left only to our own assumptions. Our generation has grown up in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding, but if we are not asking “why?” how can we be accepting and understanding?
For those that are asked this question, you should be flattered. It means that the people asking are either trying to get to know you better or they respect your opinion enough to ask you such an in-depth question. Don’t go on the defensive; just respond with what you know. If you don’t know anything, don’t feel afraid to say so. Most of us don’t know the answer to this question, so I think not knowing just makes us more human.
I have focused on the question “why?” but more generally, I have been trying to understand the purpose of all questions. You may be having a conversation with me in your head saying, “Alyssa, of course the purpose of questions is to get answers,” and in writing that short piece, I have now assured that you have said that to yourself. Real life Alyssa and imaginary in-your-headconversation Alyssa would respond, “But are we always looking for answers?” I hope that you would say, “No,” but regardless of your actual answer, I am going to continue this column as if you said no.
I don’t think that questions are used only to find answers. If they were, when I asked people how they were when I walked by them, they wouldn’t respond with the same question back at me. It is strange how we have accepted conversations consisting entirely of questions. I have been trying to decide if when I ask people how they are, they respond with the same question because they sense I don’t really care for their response or they feel uncomfortable answering. Either way, I think that questions like this are detrimental to finding real answers.
We are told that there is no such thing as a dumb question, but I think asking questions when we are not really looking for an answer is dumb. There are plenty of questions that can be asked to anyone that would warrant a response, so why should we waste time asking questions we don’t really care about? I know that I am going to continue to ask people how they are, but I am hoping to become more aware of their response. I will not accept a question. When we ask questions but don’t stop to hear the answer, we are conditioning ourselves to become void to any answer. As emotionallydriven beings, I think we have a responsibility to not only question but also to be open to the answer.
So the conclusion to all this question business is not easy. Actually, I have found that writing a column about questions is pretty confusing too. You may be saying to yourself, “Alyssa, why is it hard to write about questions?” Again, even if you weren’t thinking that before, I have now forced you to do so. Anyway, I would respond with, “As I try to answer questions, I just come up with more questions.” I don’t know who to ask these questions to or when to stop thinking about questions entirely. The purpose of this column, I guess, is selfish. I want others to feel free to question so I can begin to have my own questions answered.