If I offered and left this question-of-questions lingering amongst a group with no other context, most of us would sit in confused, uncomfortable silence until one brave soul finally asked “about what”?
Do you have any questions?
These five simple words were the last thing I heard every night as a child as my Mother tucked me in to bed. I never once asked “about what”? Even as a child, I knew my Mom was asking me a sincere and open-ended question. Some nights I might just reply “no” and drift off to sleep. Other nights, I might have a question about school, about the homeless friend passed out on our doorstep, about why my grandmother died. I remember once even asking what the “f-word” meant (I heard it from my Dad) – objectively and rationally Mom informed me (the life sciences version); no taboo, no shame.
Mom had asked me a question and was willing to answer, or help me find the answer, whatever may come. She was also willing to say when she didn’t have the answer, or perhaps there was no answer.
The important thing, though, is that there was no “about what.” Mom’s question was not loaded with the parameters of her comfort or her knowledge base. She wasn’t fishing for particular information. She wasn’t framing my response by the nature of her question.
Being asked a genuine, open-ended question every night as I fell asleep meant that genuine questioning was natural to me, curiosity cultivated. In fact, it meant that questioning was a driver of my personal development and even more questioning a result. Questioning was instilled as an ethic rather than merely a practice. When I am at my best, it illuminates my personal and professional relationships and guides the way I approach the world around me. Alternatively, when I start dealing in answers, something is terribly wrong. I know I am not myself.
After all, asking questions is about engaging life. It’s about showing respect for others’ experiences, knowledge, and opinions. Humility. It’s about exploring and learning. Growth. It’s about staying intellectually and spiritually invested. Hungry. It’s about being an artist, a friend, a partner. Creative.
A question then is not merely the absence of an answer.
We need more questions, fewer answers.
So, I am offering a few practical tips on how to bring questioning back into our lives and our personal/professional development:
1. Create safe places and explicit opportunities for asking questions and exploring opinions. To support different learning styles, personalities, and experiences, opportunities should include individual, small group, and larger group forums. Safety means different things to different people and an honest question will never come from someone who doesn’t feel safe.
2. Model leadership as inquisitiveness and humility. Leadership in schools, organizations, or the community must offer open-ended questions and demonstrate its own desire and process of learning. This is not about asking people for information, but about being willing to explore something together. It requires publicly sharing that you don’t know something (and that you believe they might).
3. Value and celebrate the process of questioning as an outcome. Too often, we confuse answers with outcomes. We need to acknowledge it when we hear a great question asked or when someone has a “light bulb” go off that triggers even more questions. This can happen in the lunchroom or the boardroom, but we need to celebrate the courage of exploration wherever it lives.
Do you have any questions?