The importance of asking questions

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 1/12/22

I love questions. Questions are the beginning of all learning, of all wisdom. Guy’s walking along, sees some interesting phenomenon, says, “Why do you suppose that happens?” That is how physics, astronomy, meteorology, psychology, chemistry… well, you get the idea.

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The importance of asking questions

Posted

I love questions. Questions are the beginning of all learning, of all wisdom. Guy’s walking along, sees some interesting phenomenon, says, “Why do you suppose that happens?” That is how physics, astronomy, meteorology, psychology, chemistry… well, you get the idea.

Also, by the way, how relationships start. Many years ago I read a book that had one very smart piece of advice: start every conversation with a stranger with five questions. The author didn’t dictate what those questions should be, he simply said have five questions in your hip pocket to start conversations. Asking about the weather doesn’t fit the bill, and just asking about the game on Sunday doesn’t do it. But, asking about how long someone’s been a Bronco fan could lead to a fascinating conversation about history, family, frustration and futility.

Sometimes, you have to be careful with your questions. There are times and places that a certain line of questioning can get you in to trouble. A few years back, I stepped out of line and questioned the narrative about a local school issue, and, honestly, had colleagues who were considering performing some sort of intervention. Or exorcism. Or something. Turned out, I was right, but by the time anybody learned the extent of that, the news cycle had moved on.

There also are questions that lead to futility. Pretty much any question these days about politics will lead you to a short hallway with a hard wall at the end of it for you to bang your head against. Asking an addict about their addiction will rarely produce anything of value. Asking a teenager, “What were you thinking?” leads nowhere useful.

There also is a class of question that is useless, but for a different reason. They fall into the category of “if you have to ask, you can’t understand the answer.” Ask a former athlete why they still work out as hard as they do, or why they play so hard at recreational games. Ask a runner why they run. Ask a musician why they practice. If you have to ask the question, you can understand the words, but you probably can’t understand the meaning behind those words.

But none of that means stop asking questions. The more challenging the question, the more important the answer. For instance, The Denver Broncos are now facing another off season of turmoil and opportunity. Do they start with the simplest question: who should be our next head coach? Obviously, they have to answer that question; but will that question alone yield the answers they need? Probably not. How about this question: what type of man do we need as our next head coach? Ah, that might bring some interesting answers leading to even more interesting questions. Or, maybe even deeper: how do we see this organization evolving in the next five years? That gets you somewhere.

It’s very early in the political cycle, but we do have elections coming up in about ten months. And, I think, a lot of our politics has stagnated around the question “Who can beat the other person?” If that’s the only question we consider deeply, or, more importantly, ask of our candidates, then all we’re going to get is another cycle of pre-school level argument that does nothing to inform the public and even less to raise up this great nation.

The answer last year was “vaccines!” Yeah, that was great. But, what we’re finding now is that was inadequate to a virus that doesn’t care about politics. Better questions might have led us to “vaccines first; but then, therapies, and then reliable testing, and especially advanced mitigation around the vulnerable…”

Everybody is busy, everybody is overwhelmed with information, so we tend to get our answers from a few trusted sources and not ask many questions. But maybe we have a responsibility to start asking more and better questions.

Michael Alcorn is a former teacher and current writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at mjalcorn@comcast.net. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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