Attend a meeting, or exchange in any meaningful dialogue, and you’ll quickly discover that nearly every question raised is met with an immediate, slightly know-it-all answer.
OK, I’m being flippant with my generalisation but rarely, if ever, do you hear someone say:
“Sorry, I don’t know.”
The media is no different, likewise websites and all forms of social media, even allowing for the usual cacophony of vitriol.
You’re probably thinking:
“And your point, Julian?”
Firstly, the best questions don’t evince of a or, in some cases, any answer. That may sound confusing, but an answer, even one you disagree with, is a dead end. It’s effect (not always, I accept) is to end or shut down the conversation, to move matters forward or to be materially helpful.
But it’s a lot worse.
A question that evinces of an answer encourages or adds to our hyperbolic, competency-addicted culture.
Think of it this way: how many Gurus have honed their advice to a point where you can follow (for example) a 7-step programme to become the best version of you? The question said Gurus are in the business of answering is:
“How can I self actualise?”
“Follow my (for example) 7-step programme.”
It’s all so self-serving.
Secondly, and perhaps more to the point, we don’t ever think that a question is to be lived in, not answered. Perhaps at some stage you manifest the answer — i.e. you walk your talk — but the very best questions are placed on our hearts and that’s where they should stay, enabling us to come alive over and over to who or what we really are.
What about this question:
“What’s the purpose of purpose?”
Cf. this to the usual question:
“What’s my purpose?”
Neither question is better than the other but, hopefully, you can see how the frame of the first is perhaps more open and relevant than the second.
If it helps — sorry to labour the point — let me give you another example of something that I see all the time.
Too many people hate their work, think their boss/manager is an idiot and have lost connection with who they are as a human being. (Even if you work for yourself, you often feel you’re working for a lunatic (i.e. you). I mean, who else would invest their time, energy and emotion to grow a business that’s always one step behind where it should be?)
In this space, you inevitably find yourself on the receiving end of a stream of questions that you’re destined to never properly or seriously answer:
“Why am I working here?”
“Why do I put up with this arsehole boss?”
“Why can’t I win more customers?”
“Why aren’t I appreciated?”
“What’s wrong with people?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
You get the picture.
Instead, what if there was one question you didn’t need to brutalise over and over:
“What is the meaning of my work?” (my emphasis added)
You might think this question undeserving of your time, less still one that you should contemplate living into but then again, I think its purview less scornful of your fragile ego and allows you to consider hopefully something else than another change of job. It behoves serious enquiry beyond the perfunctory treatment that we tend to give anything that feels awkward or difficult.
You might deem this post another finger-wagging predilection where you need to do something different. It’s not. As much as anything, it’s a reflection of my own position in life where, still, I question the story that I’ve lived without demur. I now know that if I’m able to live into the question(s) without seeking an answer — as has been my way as a recovering lawyer — that I’m far more likely to make progress with a new and more beautiful story — i.e. a richer, more insighful life.
One thing to add. Patience is paramount. Absent that, you’ll run for the hills and pick up a copy of the next self-help elixir that promises you that you can be free of your inner turmoil and build the perfect life. Trust me, that’s not what you need, unless you want to dress up in someone else’s clothes.