Questions, not answers, are the key to uncovering life’s truest meanings and purposes. We need to learn how to ask great questions. We need to become comfortable living with not-yet-answered questions. We need to reframe the idea for any given question there is necessarily “an answer.”
How to ask great questions. Great questions bubble up within us only when we are able to reflect on daily life. At times our day to day existence can feel simple, predictable, and mundane. But there’s always the potential that something will jolt us from a place of habit into a place of uncertainty. There’s always the potential that our most mundane act, when reflected upon, can be the source of a profound question.
Our capacity to ask great questions is directly related to our ability and our desire to reflect on the stuff of our lives on an ongoing basis.
Living without answers. With 4 billion handheld devices filling the pockets of pretty much any person who can afford one, living without answers is quickly becoming a dying art. But great questions typically require a period of time where we are denied a satisfying answer. Living without answers means being able to handle uncertainty. It means cultivating a measure of patience even in the face of potential discomfort. It entails learning to identify notions, hypotheses, partial understandings, intuitions, and other chunks of meaning that may one day be proven or disproven. It’s a dialectical, iterative, cyclical process. It’s kind of like when a YouTube video is “buffering.”
Reframing answers. Human beings are meaning making creatures. That means that we want answers. We want to know why things are the way they are in all aspects of our existence. Our desire for meaning drives us in all areas of our lives. It’s an undeniable and unquenchable urge that many of us don’t sufficiently recognize and embrace. The idea of “the answer” is meant to quench our desire for meaning. The problem is that, more often than not, there are actually multiple answers and not just one answer. For many of us multiple answers simply generate new and different questions rather than giving us a piece of the puzzle we are trying to complete. Others of us know that “the answer” is not the only answer available, but we accept it in what basically amounts to an act of self-deception and intellectual/emotional disingenuousness. That’s why we need to reframe the idea of answers.
Response. I prefer the idea of response(s) to the idea of answers. Great questions have the capacity to elicit a plurality of responses. Responses are driven by the questions themselves, whereas answers seem to be simply floating about in the universe only to use questions as an excuse to assert themselves. Responses facilitate the meaning making process in a more dynamic way, honoring great questions, and inviting us, the meaning makers, to engage in dialogue and conversation.