Saturday, April 12, 2008

Asking Questions

I had a conversation with a lady tonight who asked me a question which startled me and actually distressed me, "What should I do with my life?" It was asked of a stranger, a person not personally involved but with a certain reputation for thoughtfulness and forthrightness. I was startled and distressed because the person who asked was obviously intelligent, articulate, and well educated - a person I would ordinarily expect to have a pretty good idea of an answer. I expressed my surprise and we talked. The question was asked quite seriously and what became evident was that a couple pieces of the puzzle were missing.

When we are faced with a puzzle some things are very important to its solution. First is what is the measuring stick, who is the questioner and how do they measure things. This may seem odd, but we cannot ask meaningful questions if we do not understand the basis of the questions, which is the questioner. I cannot meaningfully ask what I should do if I do not know who I am, who is asking it. I need to have an honest assessment of who I am and that requires the work of finding that out. I cannot see the world I wish to ask about if I don't know what my perception is based on and perception creates our experience of reality and reality counts - hugely.

If we've set ourselves up to know how we're asking a question we start to get into a position to know what question to ask. What question to ask is not as simple as it seems at first blush, to exaggerate it would be entirely pointless for me to ask how I, a fiftyish smaller man, can become a professional football linebacker. Wrong question. If I ask myself what I consider to be a desired outcome in the very large measure and come up with an answer, I may have an unattainable goal, but that is only the starting point. It sets a direction. That large element is composed of smaller pieces and those of smaller pieces. At some point of reduction a point is reached where the questions yield achievable ends. The system of reducing the scale allows the asking of meaningful questions.

Knowing why and who is asking the question and then moving the questions into more manageable scales results in the asking of the correct question because both the reason for the question and the goal of the question have moved into a definable arena. If we want answers that are meaningful we must have a scale we can deal with to give us directions.

Much of the failure of policy over the past couple decades has not been a failure of morality, it has been a failure to know what coloring the questioner was laying on reality and then asking questions that did not reflect reality or ends of attainable goals. This is a matter of ignoring too many pieces of reality. It matters if a person of extreme wealth is asking a question of tax policy that is aimed at the GDP thinking it will have something to do with American's quality of life, that question completely ignores any other aspect of tax policy.

Not understanding the questioner's lens and asking the wrong questions has left us in Iraq with no WMDs, and a very large laundry list of other failings. It doesn't work in personal life and it doesn't work in business and it doesn't work in politics. We keep getting examples and I keep wondering why we keep doing it. It is understandable to start to wonder at age 30+ what the heck is my direction, it is not understandable to run a country this way.


KISS said...

"I may have an unattainable goal"
Isn't this where you set the goal? If it is a very large goal it seems a course of small goals would be set to achieve the larger goal. And life has a way of changing goals as well as outlooks. One of the funniest sayings is "You choose your destiny", what a crock. All one needs is for a doctor to tell you have cancer or a family member. Than what happens to that goal? I am and have always been a perseverer. As you age the goals change and you do the best you can, hoping that maybe you made a dent or that someone will further the ideals you so wanted accomplished. Conversations such as this works well with a few brews.

Chuck Butcher said...

I leave the brews to others. There is no doubt that things do not go the way they are planned, you get where you get and then reassess and get about the next step.

A goal is a place you're not at, breaking it down into smaller steps doesn't negate the larger goal, it makes the navigation a bit simpler and the reassessments a bit more manageable. I don't propose that smaller segments make the end goal inevitable, they do make it more likely. Smaller ones also do something to reduce the fear factor or the intimidation factor.

This post was a different exercise than the usual political, firearm, car things, but it involved a question that seemed to have some import.

Chuck Butcher said...

Knock me down with a feather, Reuters picked this up.