What’s in a Question?

Today I was walking and talking with my niece from California. I love that we can still find a way to spend time together, albeit separated by two time zones.

I’ll be honest. Whenever I speak with her, it’s a recharge of my spiritual batteries. She’s a wonderful person and I always feel better when I’m with her. I guess all my nieces and nephews are pretty amazing humans, now that I think about it.

Today she was sharing a topic of conversation she had with colleagues. What questions should we consider out-of-bounds? Which ones may we not ask?

The two of us dove down that rabbit hole together, and as is so often the case in our conversations, she got me thinking.

What is behind the questions we ask?
Curiosity?
Habit?
Anxiety?
Anger?
Fear?
Jealousy?
Compassion?
Courtesy?

Perhaps it’s possible to distinguish questions into two different categories: Those with positive intentions, and those with less-than-positive intentions.

Which also made me wonder.

How often do I ask a question out of curiosity? How often am I asking a question because I don’t actually know the answer?

The answer, I think (at least for myself) is probably less than I’d like to admit.

More likely, I’m going to ask a question:
-to help someone else articulate their thinking
-to help someone else realize their answer already lies within
-to find out what they know
-to illustrate a point

As a teacher, I often think of my style as a “Jewish Mother” style of communication. That is, whenever my students ask me a question, I answer it with a question.
“Mrs. Levin, where should I put this paper?”
“What do you see your classmates doing?”

“Mrs. Levin, how should I answer this question?”
“What makes the most sense to you?”

There’s a reason why my signature email line is a quote that I hope to someday be famous for: “Education isn’t about getting the right answer. It’s about asking the right questions.”

Still.

I should also admit that I am a HUMAN PERSON. And as such, I have to admit my intentions are not always positive. That sometimes I ask a question because I know someone DOESN’T have an answer, or because both of us already KNOW what that answer is going to be and I just want confirmation. I think we all do that from time to time.

So why DO we ask questions? The answer should be obvious – because there’s something we don’t know. But that’s not the answer. That’s not how it translates into real life.

When you ask a question, how often is it – really – that you ask that question because you don’t know the answer, and because you genuinely WANT to know the answer?

I honestly don’t know. I think I might find, on closer inspection, that these types of questions make up a minority of the questions I pose. No matter the purpose, it’s my hope that I come from a place of positive intentions more often than not.

Either way, I think it’s important to start paying better attention to my interactions with others, and that I become mindful of my intentions.

And becoming more mindful is, inevitably, one of the things I am inspired to do after speaking with my niece.

Funny the way that works.

Wouldn’t you say?

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