Asking Questions

Recently at the Aarohi Campus, there was a conversation around “learning by asking questions.” Ratnesh was encouraging learners at Aarohi’s Coversity to ask lot of questions to industry experts in their domain as a way of getting to know the industry.

No doubt, asking questions is a great way to understand the world around us. Generally when we ask a question, we assume the existence of an answer and a being who can give us that answer. But it is quite possible that a question has no real answer. Much the same way, an answer makes no sense or has no utility unless it is revealed in the backdrop of a question, and unless it is revealed to the person who has that question.

Let’s look at each point one by one.

Answers are useless, without a question and questioner

Traditional education seems to bombard learners with answers, even when the apt-question for which the answers are given are not a question for the learner.

For instance, the learner doesn’t come to school wanting to know “how exactly did the Mysore Maharaja administer his kingdom?”. The learner is nevertheless arm-twisted into learning answers to that question and is even examined to ensure that they know the answer. I think that kind of education is violent, and is best avoided.

Questioner is missing the point, if they come with the assumption that there is an answerer and an answer for their question

Traditional education assumes that every question posed by the learner must be answered. That kind of relationship with questions-and-answers reduces the whole beauty of learning/discovering/exploring to a transaction. I fear that same transactional attitude will get extended to other things in life.

For instance, a boy proposes to a girl – “Do you love me?” and expects the answer to be “Yes” or “No”; and also expects the girl to know the answer. Isn’t that kind of attitude towards questions sub-optimal? What if the boy learns to relish knowing that there may not be an answer for a while (or forever)? What if the girl learns to relish knowing that her experience of life shifted when she was posed with the question, even if she doesn’t know the answer yet (or forever)? Can you see all the flavors and richness of life one will miss out on if Q&A is reduced to a transaction.

Questions open a space to stand inside of and look out at the world with wonder and amazement, while being fully available to all the magic the universe wants to reveal to us.

  • What if we could ask the question: “is there life after death?” and the unverse throws back another question “are you sure you are not already dead?”.
  • What if we could ask the question: “will I find a good job by doing Lego all my life?” and stand in wonder what a life without having a job looks like? Have you considered the extraordinary contribution one would make to humanity to open up the possibility of living a life without having to have a job?
  • What if we could ask the question: “who will marry me if I don’t have a degree?” and stand in wonder about all the people we could meet who may have the same question? What if a powerful bond gets created and a new community of ‘who-will-marry-me’ers get formed?
  • What if we could ask the question: “can I simply play football all my life?”. Rather than get worked up and worried about the question, what if we could simply be open to the possibilities it will open up? Its possible that someone like Yashas comes along says “Yes, I intend to do that. Do you want to join me?”

Questioning-to-discover vs questioning-to-challenge

Questions can be raised to challenge the status-quo or an answer.

Questions can also be raised to discover, wonder, explore and look out seeking for connections.

Words that make up a question can be spoken in a tone that implies posing a challenge vs genuinely posing a query. It pays to learn the difference between these tones. Its perfectly fine to question somebody to challenge their existing answers and positions, but please make sure that they are open and ready to be challenged. Don’t assume that people should be open to be challenged. Don’t assume that people’s positions and answers are wrong or incomplete or inappropriate. When you pose a question, if the other person takes on a defensive stand or gets offended, please work on the voice and tone you use to pose your question like you are posing a query to learn and understand rather than posing a question because you want to challenge. And if you are keen on posing a question to challenge, then please spend sometime preparing the conversation and the relationship so that the other person willingly opens up to being challenged.