Do you ask enough questions or do you settle for what you know?

I thought I had posted this yesterday.. but it was sitting in my drafts folder this morning!

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Today is going to be a two question day, owing to the fact that I didn’t get home until really late last night. But it’s ok, because today is Sunday and I’ve successfully completed everything on my to do list (mainly cleaning, laundry, and de-Christmasing the house).

I think today’s question is interesting, because it suggests that it’s through asking questions that one grows, rather than through accepting the answer. People ask questions all the time that they have the answer in mind before they even speak: “is it ok if I sit here?” – how many people are going to say No? And if they did, how would society look on them?

Another great example of a question that doesn’t seek knowledge is “how are you?”. It’s become an over used example in the micro-blogging, post secret sharing online culture that a lot of people really aren’t fine, but sharing that response would be inappropriate and uncomfortable for the asker.

I don’t know that I ask a whole lot of questions to seek knowledge. Sometimes I think asking questions actually confuses the process of finding information. Think of a job interview where you are asking the questions: every interview follows a similar pattern, and most interviewees give very standard, scripted answers. We don’t judge the person by the answers, but by their mannerisms, attitude, dress, and composure. Really, job interviews would glean more information if the individual being interviewed didn’t answer a single question, and instead was judged on his or her ability to have a regular conversation about something unexpected or banal, like “The Bachelor” or whether or not they believe the Mayan prophecy is correct. In which case, why are they applying for a new job?

Ultimately, knowledge comes as a choice from the person that answers, often as a reaction to the sincerity of the person that asks. This blog asks me a question every single day. I could answer them all without giving much of myself away – would it be interesting? Probably not. But could I do it? Absolutely! In truth, you could probably find out more things about me through looking at my facebook page for 20 minutes than you could asking me a stream of questions.  My job requires a reasonable amount of research based projects on different organizations. I two years I have never called up an organization to ask them the questions I need to know the answers to. Why? Because I know how selective companies are with information. I can find out more online.

Also, by asking a question, you limit the information that you might find out. You have to know 100% that what you’re asking is what you need to know, or else the response is of little value, or even totally misleading. At least that has been my experience.

But I do seek to learn new things. Perhaps I am not such an avid researcher now as I once was, but I do have moments where I research topics for hours at a time. I think that being happy with what you know happens to everyone for short periods of time, and those moments are complete bliss. Of course, you have to maintain what you know, or it starts to fade away. I used to be able to speak French nearly fluently, but now I can hardly string a sentence together. Do I regret that? Maybe. But since then I have learned huge quantities of information on other topics, places, and things.

I don’t think that any human is content with what they know. Even people who don’t know they are looking for answers will ask through the way they live their lives, the company that they keep, the places they go. Every day we learn new things, like what the weekday drink specials are at Johnny’s, or what the light pattern is at that intersection on 95th street. Yes, the personal knowledge I have brings me great comfort, and I’m both proud and defensive of it, but will I ever be content with just that? Of course not.

And as for the questions, most of the questions I ask are mundane “have you fed the dog?” type questions. I wish I had the self awareness to be able to think of what it is I want to know, then to form a question designed to get that information, and select the best person to answer it. Unfortunately, that seems rather daunting to me, I’ll have to take the knowledge where I find it!

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