Ask a better question

Aug 9, 2018 by

Ask a better question

 Ask a Better Question

I have said for many, many years:

“A Better Question Is More Important Than The Right Answer. Because Usually It’s the Right Answer To The Wrong Question”

As human beings, we are constantly looking for the answer. An Answer. Any Answer. To Life The Universe & Everything. According to The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that answer is 42. We are desperate for closure to ALL our questions. We want direction as humans. We need to know.

But what if that need to know closes us off to the most important aspect of curiosity. The need to be inquisitive and ask better questions. Always asking better questions instead of getting THE answer, THE point solution implies that the art of asking questions itself IS the answer.

I know it’s a bit counterintuitive, to have questioning BEING the answer. But stick with me for a moment. When we question we have to engage our prefrontal cortex (PFC for short) because we need to move concepts from the unconscious to the conscious and that requires language to bridge these two facets of humanity. And language requires us to engage our PFC.

When we have an answer, any answer, even the wrong answer, or a self-delusional answer to a different question but one that we can justify, we calm our Amygdala down. Our animal brain gets a moment of silence, but we don’t completely activate our PFC because there is no more inquiry, no more questioning, no more reason to pull deep ideas from our unconscious.

I wholeheartedly believe that as humans, our growth, our expansion, requires us to extricate ourselves from the unexamined assumptions of our answers. Our gut feelings, cultural biases, humanistic cognitive biases all conspire against us to come up with THE answer to biochemically relax and get closer.

Just think about how wrong we’ve been in the past:

  1. The world is flat
  2. “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” — H. M. Warner (above), Warner Brothers, 1927
  3. “We will not see a crash in our time.” — John Maynard Keynes, 1927 two years before the Wall Street Crash that started The Great Depression.
  4. “Not even God himself could sink this ship.” — Said by a deckhand of the Titanic at the launch of the ship on May 31 , 1911
  5. “The Beatles have no future in show business.” — This was said to the band’s manager, by a Decca Records executive, after an audition in 1962

History is littered with well-intentioned fraudulent answers. Answers to questions that haven’t really explicitly been asked. Why we feel the need to answer when we typically misread the evidence and go with our unreliable gut is really just part of our human drive to understand why. The why of everything.

Our human instinct is to be grounded. I believe that at the moment your humanity sparks into existence (whether you believe that is at conception or that is after you’re born is just personal preference) our ability to question becomes the polar opposite to our need for safety, certainty and solid ground.

In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron states

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us”

That annihilation piece is us being ungrounded. It’s humans not having the answer. And the exposing ourselves over and over is humans asking better questions.

I’ve heard it said that we should just surrender to the fates and not need an answer. I understand this point of view. No attachment to outcome is a Buddhist philosophy that has served many people very well over the millennia, including me.

But surrendering to the concept that there is no answer and then taking that one step further, that we should surrender to no more questions is a mistake.

It IS the asking of questions that IS the answer. Just surrendering to what may be, robs us of our agency to be curious and explore further. I’ll say it again:

Surrender to the fact that there are no right answers.
Never, EVER, surrender your ability to be curious and question.

A Better question is more important than the right answer. Because usually, it is the right answer to the wrong question.

I wish a deep understanding of that phrase is what you come away with from reading these words. There is always a more interesting, deeper, more connected question. And usually, it’s completely opposite of what you’re asking. Explore that. Don’t get answers. Curiously craft questions.

See you on the wire

— Steven Cardinale

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