I spend more time praising questions than answers. It might be reactionary. No, the Bible isn’t the answer book. It’s the question book. Everything great begins with a question. Blah. Blah. Answers are nice too. If they exist, if they are correct, if they are honest, than answers are real nice. These are my favorite stories related to answers or answering:
1. Silence before answering is a sign of respect.
I tried to hunt down the source for this, but like many stories I have changed it and repurposed it to make it sound like I want it to. A visitor goes to a classroom. The visitor is from another culture (doesn’t matter which really) probably some version of Native American. There is a Q&A time. And someone asks the visitor a question and he pauses and he doesn’t respond for _____ amount of time. (I first started telling this story by saying 5 minutes, but really any time over 5 seconds these days works to illustrate this point.) The room fills the silence with chatter and feels like the visitor just isn’t all there. Eventually it is explained why he thought about his answer before saying anything. It went something like this: “That is a good question. Where I come from, a way of showing respect for a good question is thinking about your answer before saying it. It is disrespectful to answer right away, before giving the question the silence it deserves.” There’s a lot that can be extrapolated from this. The first thing that comes to mind is pervasive and flippant habit of dismissing questions by either ignoring them altogether, or quickly answering them without thinking through an answer or providing evidence. It feels like so many people treat important questions like the game Whack A Mole, just smack it with a plastic hammer, and then hit the next one and then the next.
2.”How could a porcupine save your life?”
I love this exchange between Eustace Conway, the subject of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book The Las American Man, with a student after a classroom presentation. For a lot of reasons. Here it is:
“Do you have a hairbrush?”
“I used to have a porcupine hairbrush. I don’t have it anymore, though.”
“What’s a porcupine hairbrush?”
“A hairbrush made out of porcupine bristles.”
“Where’d you get that?”
“A porcupine saved my life once when I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, so I made the hairbrush out of its bristles, to honor it.”
“How could a porcupine save your life?”
“By giving me something to eat when I was starving to death.”
Here, there was an extended silence, as the kids tried to figure that one out. Then they all kind of said, “Ohhh . . .” at the same time, and the questioning continued.
“Why were you starving to death?”
“Because there wasn’t any food.”
“Why wasn’t there any food?”
“Because it was winter.”
– From The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
3. What Proverbs says about getting wisdom
The first few chapters of the book of Proverbs is concerned with getting wisdom. I love how it’s not a passive act. It talks about looking for it as if it was silver or a hidden treasure. Reminiscent of ask, seek, knock. The point, or some of it, is that wisdom (answers) are valuable and it is worth it, and necessary, to spend the time and energy to find answers. All too often, quests are abandoned after the question is asked.
“That’s a good question,” is not a good final answer.
I feel like too many questions (mine, yours, our culture, country, churches, schools, etc.) are abandoned too quickly, not thought through, not valued. The thing I tell my students is that it seems like people want gold and say they want gold and then walk down to a river, pick up one rock, and say “no gold” and then go about their lives believing there isn’t any.
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