“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.” Albert Einstein
I think that quote puts the value of questions in an unequivocally clear category. I valued questioning as a primary tool in the classroom. No, not me asking questions and waiting to get pre-programmed answers. I tried to train my students to ask questions. How, you ask? At least I hope you ask!
On several projects every year I would do fun things to generate ideas for them to develop. One of the techniques was the good, old 5 W’s and H reporter questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Oh, no, I didn’t just tell them to think about those in writing some paper. I would instruct them: “Whatever it is you are considering, I want you to ask about anyone involved in any way to your topic. So, for two minutes, I want you to write Who questions as fast as you can — just questions, no answers. Ready, set, Who.” I used a stopwatch to time them. I would go through each question like that — 20 minutes tops for all. It worked in generating ideas, giving full pictures and abundant details.
Another technique that I used several other times throughout the year involved some questions that I borrowed from Michael Bugeja’s The Art and Craft of Poetry. Three questions helped students — really anyone— to put some of their lives in perspective. The questions certainly could produce powerful emotions resulting from memories, ideas that served well for poetry focus. I would time them again, for three minutes over three different questions: What are the high points in my life? Low points? Turning points? Not explaining each of those here, but once again, the combination of forcing the brain to work quickly helped to bypass a lot of ego in these initial personal stages, and the questions forced some deep ideas into the light.
Questions, valuable questions, quality questions. So critical in life. If we can’t ask great questions, we are going to live others’ answers to their own questions. If students don’t learn how to question, their education is compromised, and this provides one way of controlling knowledge by a relatively select few. Teachers get trained, somewhat, on how to question, but not on how to train their students to do the same. Just making the point here that questions unlock not only our brains and all they contain but also unlock the Universe to us. To some, that’s a challenge to their authority.
One of those tenets that I refer to about the Romantic Period authors and thinkers is that they question authority. Now, that doesn’t mean unbridled rebellion against authority just because it exists; it means to question it — smart, thoughtful, useful, productive questions. If reason exists for continuing to do things as they are being done, peace! If not, see ya! Nothing, absolutely nothing, is sacred if it cannot stand up to probing, thoughtful questions. Leaders or authorities who do not allow questions are tyrants and dictators — no compromise.
And the questions that we ask ourselves, our own hearts, are the ones that we had better listen to very intently. That’s another benefit of being a great questioner: it makes us great listeners, which makes for a person of value, a person who is valued and valuable.
In my upcoming novel, The Fellowship of the Heart, the self-awakening that occurs in various characters like the Lafarnges happens through dialog with their own hearts, questioning and listening. That process does present a challenge to the authorities in their lives.
I cannot emphasize enough how critical learning to ask questions and to listen for responses truly is. If you’ve never thought about life from this specific angle, why not take a few minutes to use either one or both of the questioning techniques I used with my students, and I still use with myself. The 5 W’s and the H works for almost any challenge or needs you might face — times where you might need ideas — while the high points, low points, and turning points can give you real insight into yourself and open a meaningful dialog with your own heart.
I can honestly say that I had not planned on the direction that this article has taken. Perhaps, though, it will be significant for you. It has been for me, even as I questioned myself as I began this.
How are you doing?
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Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!