Here's what to do when you don't have any answers
I have a friend who asks me, “Can I get your opinion on something?” when she wants to approach a difficult subject - especially if she intuits that I might disagree with her (like I would ever disagree with someone.) I always want to smile when she says it.
Whenever she uses this question, I feel invited into the conversation as a person with an opinion she values. I feel free to offer my perspective without fear of things getting tense between us. I know an open dialogue is about to take place. I don’t ever feel like she needs to act on what I say. I know she wants a different point of view. She wants to push her thinking and explore alternatives to what she is considering.I love a good question. And right now, we need to be asking good questions.
Have you ever noticed how many questions little kids ask? My grandson, Sitka, is four. Apparently, that is the age when question asking reaches its peak with children. I’ve read that four-year-olds ask, on average, 200 questions a day. Why? Why do they ask so many questions? (See what I did there?) Boom - again!
They ask questions because they are curious. They want to know about everything. And do you know what the best way to respond is? With a question! You may think that you shouldn’t answer a question with a question. I beg to differ. If you want to teach a child to think don't give them all the answers.
Sitka and I were looking at a plant this week, and he asked me, “Is that a massive weed?” Rather than say yes, I remembered the power of asking questions to get him to think. So I asked him, ‘what makes something massive?”, “what do you think?” “what makes it a weed?” Soon enough, he got bored and wandered off to explore something else and ask another question. He wasn’t looking for a definitive answer on large weeds. He’s learning and I was helping him think.
Here’s the truth - when you believe you have to have an answer to every question you are asked, it puts you on the defence. I spent years in a religious culture that taught us we had to have answers for every question we were asked about our beliefs. It created some pretty in the box answers and a lack of critical thinking.
Many of us are working our way through deep issues that range from understanding systemic racism and defunding police to how much exposure we are comfortable with as businesses and other non-essential services open their doors again. We may find ourselves with different ideas about moving forward than other people in our families and communities. It can be uncomfortable. We might worry about disappointing people if we haven’t worked out all the details on each issue or have a different opinion. We may avoid having conversations that could lead to a dialogue that helps us all get more clarity.
We need to ask the right questions if we are going to feel confident knowing how to proceed and bring healing to our world. Asking questions can help us know what the real issues are. Asking questions can help us get clarity. Asking questions can help us see our own biases. Asking questions can help us discover the truth.
I know many of you are feeling overwhelmed. Most of us are. There is a lot of uncertainty. Maybe you are struggling with knowing how you can be a positive presence amid chaos and conflict. It’s OK. Start with your questions. Here’s another good question for you, “What is the question you are holding in your heart right now?”
You don’t need to force answers. If you aren’t sure or if you don’t have clarity, just sit with the questions. That is what I’m doing.