Saturday, July 25, 2009

For the want of a really good question

Many occasions in life will see us engaging in the hunt for 'the right answer'. From the time we were in kindergarten we've been trained to expect that a question posed anticipates an answer supplied, and a learning goal achieved.

Finding answers can be tough; but not as tough as trying to find the right question.

Social change strategist Fran Peavey speaks of questions as being like levers set to work on the lids of paint tins: some questions are a 'short lever' and may just manage to pry the lid off; other questions have the capacity to not only open the tin but to get in there and really stir things up.

Questions are not made good by volume, but by their ability to stir us into deeper realisation and unsettledness. The best questions for agitation are not questions where the questioner already knows the answer, but those where the answers are yet to be discovered in an act of co-creation engaging various parties around the table.

As Peavey says, "People need to come up with their own answers. Questioning can catalyze this process. Don't be disappointed if a great question does not have an answer right away. A powerful question will sit rattling in the mind for days or weeks as the person works on an answer. If the seed is planted, the answer will grow. Questions are alive!"

Oh that we lived into this reality more often! Many times we find ourselves beset by a barrage of questions, yet strangely comforted that the inquistor knows the answer, and will lead us to it if we cannot find it ourselves. It starts at school, and is a method most educators never tire of.

"What colour is the car, Suzie?"
"What is 6 x 2, Todd?"
"Who were the signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi, and on what date was it signed? Why is there a perception that the bilingual nature of the Treaty favoured Pākehā?"
"Why should you use a registered fitting station to secure your child's car seat restraint?"
"What behaviours does the Apostle Paul say believers must exhibit in v.9? Why must they act this way?"
"How can you tell if a person has been physically or psychologically abused? What are the signs?"
"So I've presented you with these two options, and it's now for you to make the choice: which one fits your personality type?"

These are questions with short leverage. And that's okay if you're only after data, zeros and ones.

But occasionally a really good question will come your way. And it will stir at you and niggle you until something in your life changes. We are starved for want of good questions (especially the unaskable questions: "What would it take for someone here to ask us a question that may completely unhinge us -- and even the questioner?").

What are the questions that have changed your life?

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