Questions Without Answers

“He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.”

~Eli Wiesel, Night

Ask a child if they made their bed or cleaned their room, ask a politician if they agree or disagree, ask someone if your outfit makes you look fat or thin, or ask an employee if the project is completed or the client notified, and you can be sure that the conversation will come to a screeching halt as answers and justifications are being developed.  At best, the questions will be deflected. Questions often make people nervous so we avoid asking. As Wiesel discovered, the power isn’t in the answers, but in the questions being asked.

“What do you need to find your balance again?”
“What is it that unbalanced you?”
“How come you are so hard on yourself?”

I hurried at first to avoid offering answers as my friend hurled questions in my direction.  Suddenly, though, I found myself relaxing in considering the questions she had asked.  Without worrying about providing answers, I appreciated the questions that stayed with me after we went our separate directions. She wanted me to examine and to think. She wasn’t attacking me. I might not have answers for everything, but I’d at least like to have the questions asked  if I want to move forward. I’m betting the same goes for you.  

Being asked questions is powerful because questions make you think.  It would be easy to look at your mess and say life’s too busy to get it cleaned up, blame the world for your lack of work, wish there were more in the bank when the money runs low, and accuse those kids who won’t visit of being ungrateful.  What if we stopped to examine questions that might match our situations:

“What keeps you from cleaning up your mess?”

“Why do you have a hard time finding a job?”

“How do you want your bank account to look?”

“What do your comments actually say to your adult children?”  

Unlike the multiplication tables that never change, thought-provoking questions offer you and me opportunities to use critical thinking skills.  Once you learn that 12 x 12 is 144, you don’t really have to think much about it again.  It won’t be different tomorrow.  Other questions require thought about the situation because situations change.–what keeps me from dealing with the mess today might be different next month.  In classrooms, teachers develop lesson plans that will encourage their students to use critical thinking skills to empower themselves, and those same skills are necessary if we want to find power and success in our own lives.   Just what is this thing called critical thinking?  

In essence, critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason…Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value…seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not. Critical thinkers will identify, analyse and solve problems systematically rather than by intuition or instinct. (skillsyouneed.com)

For an emotion-driven person like me, this is tough. Critical thinking means I can’t just react.  Reason, rigorously question, and accept that sometimes your picture is incomplete. One of the things that I have learned from a few smart friends is that stopping to think before I respond is vitally important, and in the questions that I ask myself in those moments is something more important and more powerful than answers.  

What question will you ask yourself today? What situation will challenge you to think when you might normally react? Just as I’ve learned from watching others, others can learn from watching us.   Let’s offer an example of connecting ideas, arguing with facts, and seeking solutions to the people around us. Remember, every question possesses a power that does not lie in your being able to answer it.

 

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