Part of your wisdom portfolio
We presented a proposal recently. It was an intense session, and the customer probed us on many aspects of the solution and financials.
It went well, and when we gathered for a debrief afterwards, our leader said, ‘I think we did a good job. We had all the answers!’
In my mind, I rejoined, ‘No, it went well because we had all the questions! Which we asked ourselves as we prepared.’
It led to this story, which was incubating in my mind for another reason. I was revisiting the great Greek, Western European and Indian philosophers, as philosophy is a subject that’s long interested me.
In a year or so of touring through them, one thing that stood out was how they found the right questions to ask. It’s probably true of great scientists too, and why we revere them.
Their questions contained the germ of the answers they found. Whether we agree or disagree with the answers, we can see the treasure in the questions they asked.
A few of these seminal queries were — What is everything made of? Where did everything come from? Can we prove there’s a God? What is ethical? Are we born with some knowledge of the world? What keeps things together? What is Time?
Finding an answer to a question is more straightforward in comparison, especially as there is a question to answer in the first place.
In some ways, an answer is like an effect, and a question is like a cause.
An original cause is what brings about something new in the world. But how can we create a reason? How can we cause a cause?
In other words, how do we find a good original question?
The first prompter of questions is sensory information, and the second is rational thought.
The former has become trivial after many millennia of human existence and inquiry. For example, why is there a delay between seeing lightning and hearing thunder?
Unless we develop more senses, the number of new questions from sensory data will probably reach zero or have already done so.
But thinking still has considerable potential to unearth new wonderments. For example, how ethical is it to ban immigration?
We may be lucky enough to stumble upon an excellent personal question in sailing through oceans of thought. It can be a question about ourselves, others, or the world. It can be about any matter or subject.
For most of us, the questions we ask don’t have to be world-changing. They can help us to be happier.
And we all benefit from each other’s private questions.
For example, I asked myself a decade ago, ‘How important is it to treat children with respect?’ Another was, ‘How different is the happiness and sense of achievement of two well-off persons whose careers end at different levels?’
There’s tremendous value in an original universal question. I doubt we can hit upon one through sheer luck. Knowledge and conscious searching are now essential to the novelty of an inquiry due to evolution and progress.
The only way to a great new question is to learn a lot and give ourselves time to think deeply.
It doesn’t mean we become question-pests. We ask ourselves the question, not show off our critical thinking.
We should answer it ourselves as far as possible, usually internalised.
Sometimes we can discuss it for improvement and validation.
Rarely can we consider our question and answer valuable enough to share in a big way with the world. But if we think they are, we should not hide this light.
Looking back over life, I credit my reasonable success in family, work, friendships and writing to finding good personal questions now and then and one or two universal ones.
I hope I’ll ask myself a few more of both in the remaining journey.
If you recall a memorable question you asked yourself, my friend, that made a big difference to your life or those of others, I’d love to hear what you share.
Connect with me!