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January 23rd, 2020
At the heart of a question is a push to go discover something. It’s even in the word. Lop off the last three letters of the word question and what do you get? A quest.
It’s no accident.
What exactly is at the end of that quest we are pushed on to go discover?
The answer, ironically, isn’t really an answer.
What we hunt for at the behest of a good question is a new perspective, one that reveals the world in a different way, in the context of the original question now well explored.
For a moment, think of it like a movie you are about to see that you’ve heard excellent things about.
What’s it about?
You’re in for a treat. I don’t want to tell you any more, just watch it.
There’s a kind of joyful buzz in the imagination in those moments before we actually begin to watch. And then when the film is over, our question: what’s it about? . . . has certainly been answered, but it’s more than an answer at that point. It’s an experience that has unfolded in a continual change of perspective.
Good questions aren’t meant to simply ponder, they push us into a dialogue of building with reality, rearranging parts of reality so that it shows us a new perspective.
Another way to think about this is to realize that questions in this manner can also be rephrased as statements.
Take this question for example: Is there a better way to word this?
I know there is a better way to word this.
Both the question and the statement are indicating something about the future where some imagined version of reality may or may not exist. However, the statement carries a bit more psychological horsepower than the tentative sounding question, which might defeatedly be answered with a no.
We might look at our project and ask: can I make this work?
The question holds almost as much impending failure as the limp statement I’ll try.
But rephrase the question as I know I can make this work. And suddenly there’s a bit more motivation to go on the journey to actually find out.
While this connection between questions and this particular variety of statements might seem to undermine their respective definitions a little, we have to step back and take in a larger context regarding language, namely, what’s the point if not to use it to better effect? Language is, after all, a tool, and regardless of how it’s seems to have been built and how it seems it should be used, the more important consideration is what can we actually do with it?
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