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August 27th, 2020
The utility of a question seems pretty straight-forward. You don’t know something, so you ask in order to get an answer. This transaction is almost boring at first glance. Perhaps it’s spiced up by a sense of embarrassment when we feel shamed into thinking that we should already know the answer. Now the transaction seems weighed down with a kind of burdensome debt. The question becomes a stress, a thing to avoid a bane of our experience. All this just relegated to the questions that other people have answers to, and to say nothing of the infinite open-ended questions that no one has an answer for.
But folded within the dismal appearance of such a paralyzing moment lies an opportunity to flip it all inside out with a bit of artistry.
Language is an absurdly flexible medium. It is an everything machine. For example, it just crafted an experience of a question-and-answer situation in a terrible light. It’s an experience we’ve all had: it can actually be quite painful to feel the need to ask a question that is embarrassing to ask. But now, allow language to take the exact same circumstance and turn it inside out. Watch and listen as language transforms itself, and by doing so transforms your sense of this transactional question-and-answer..
A real expert or master in any field has arrived at that state by continually moving forward into a cloud of unknown to explore, learn and understand. For many such individuals, it’s not an overwhelming and debilitating sense of confusion that drives their pursuit, but rather a healthy curiosity, and we need only wonder: what is the relationship between curiosity and questions? Is it a relationship as fraught and difficult as the one between confusion and questions? This question can be further expanded and drilled into: How does a curious expert receive and view a question? Does such a person roll their eyes in annoyed frustration at the burden? Probably not a sign of a curious expert if that’s their reaction…
A well formed question can accomplish a surprising alchemy of outcomes:
it can flatter the person being asked by presenting them in the role of teacher and expert,
it can conceal the embarrassment of the person who doesn’t know,
it garners the answer to increase understanding, and
it can strengthen the bond between the person with the question and the person with the answer.
The question, if artfully crafted can create a synergy between two people who we might originally see as existing within a hierarchy fraught with some power dynamics. With an artful use of language, we can simultaneously manage emotions surrounding confusion and create an interaction where all gain.