The Art Of Asking
You’re sitting around a table at brunch, or maybe it’s a bar. Yeah. A dive bar. And someone asks “Have you seen Making a Murderer?” And some hands go up, some form of passionate agreement happens, and maybe even someone brings up that Steven Avery’s story was already covered years ago by Radiolab. The non-believers will jump to their phone and look for the answer, and sure enough…
We’ve gotten pretty bad at asking questions, as a generation and culture. Google has trained us to ask questions with a quantifiable, simple answer. Having smart phones in our pockets have ended the bargument and we’ve reduced ourselves to asking questions that don’t require thought.
I’ve noticed that dozens of people in my life are going through a crisis of purpose. A few years ago we may have called it a quarter life crisis, but I don’t think it’s that. These friends and old co-workers of mine (and I was there about 2 years ago myself) have realized that what they’re doing isn’t interesting or important to them anymore. And suddenly they freak out and want to change everything. I have to break up with my girlfriend. Leave this job. Quit and travel and I’ll figure out what I want when I’m in Thailand. Sure, part of that has some truth. Traveling and being far from your current life can give you perspective and objectivity to evaluate and make a new plan. But I think being better about asking questions can solve that problem in a much more meaningful way.
I was at a bar a few weeks ago and one of my friends asked, “Do you guys have any idea how big Russia is?” And people start to chime in with various answers and interpretations. Square footage, people, number of time zones, the fact that it borders Finland AND North Korea. It’s a pretty simple question but the answers came in layers. It was something that made you see Russia in a new way and started me thinking about asking better questions.
A question itself can give you purpose. My friend Dev told me a story of a week he spent in Malaysia where he went to see some sea turtles. But when he got there, he discovered that the turtles had stopped coming to the beaches to mate and lay their eggs. He started asking people, “What happened to the turtles?” and that lead him all along the coast of several islands with this quest. Now, the simple Google answer is “Plastic.” But the multi-layered answer that took a week (and probably some more time of asking and researching and intervieweing) is much more about the story of how the resorts are now deserted and the people are suffering and the economy is shifting and the resources are becoming scarce. It’s a deep answer. Dev isn’t devoting his life to turtles. It was a question that gave his life direction and purpose for a week, and he left Malaysia with a deep understanding of what’s going on there and of himself.
What if we all were asking better questions? What if we were more in the habit of asking questions about purpose, about priorities, about “enough,” about values, about identity? These are the kinds of questions that get brought up over drinks and dinners and coffees and late night calls for weeks and weeks and can’t be solved or answered with the internet or your smart phone. They take thinking and depth and time.
And if we got in the habit of asking better questions, maybe we wouldn’t rush to quitting our jobs and moving and traveling and breaking up and freaking out about our lives. Maybe we would all be having conversations about our purpose and finding meaning in our lives through work, relationships, community, art and personal development. Maybe we’ve just lost the art of asking better questions.
Are you willing to ask better questions to find a deeper purpose?