Lesson # 17: It is essential to ask deeper questions
The most annoying question a child asks parents is “but why?” when being told to do a task. So most parents quickly answer with “because I told you so” or “because I say so.” Another annoying question a child asks is “are we there yet?” when the family is taking a long drive to an exciting destination. Most parents try to distract the child with games and other activities, or worse, they yell at the child for asking so much. I’m not judging how we parent, but think about it, aren’t those good questions? What if we encourage children to ask more questions? What if, as adults, we do our best to answer them?
I grew up in a certain culture during a time when children should be seen but not heard. I was one of those kids who happened to have a lot of things to say and to ask. And I remember not getting the answers I wanted or needed. Most of the time I got punished—either by being yelled at or given the silent treatment. Not because my parents were bad people, but because they probably grew up not questioning things either.
One example that has stuck with me was the time I asked my mother about why was it not a good idea to date someone of a different religion. I grew up in a Christian household but I had a crush on a Muslim boy. Other examples of unanswered questions were: Why did I need to change the way I spoke to my grandparents when I turned 6 or 7? Was the previous language or the way I spoke to them wrong? Why was respect more important than love and genuine connection? Wasn’t respect already included in the package when we loved someone by being kind to them, speaking highly of them, forgiving them readily, and trusting them with our innermost thoughts? Why did boys laugh at me because I preferred wearing shorts/pants instead of dresses? Why would God punish people who divorce their abusive spouse? So many questions…so little explanation.
When I met my husband, he firing so many questions at me about my culture in his effort to understand us. He also asked so many questions about me (my beliefs about different subjects, values, ideas, wants and needs, fears/doubts, and my future plans) in his attempt to get to know me better. I was polite at first, but then I told him that his questions drove me mad! Part of it was because I was ashamed that I didn’t know the answers or that I hadn’t thought of them. I felt stupid. I would tell him, “That’s just how it is, it’s been that way all my life,” or “How the heck should I know?” Sometimes I got angry because I really didn’t want to consider the answer, so I said, “Why would you even ask me that?”
Asking questions beyond the obvious and common ones was a new concept to me. This was the beginning of my communication skills course in life. He was my most prominent teacher, but not the first or the only one. There have been many other teachers who taught me a simple skill here and there but didn’t stay long enough to help me practice. Marrying the teacher gave me that opportunity. And this course was hard! It was uncomfortable, and sometimes painful to learn. This was a course that taught me about asking good questions for the sake of asking. It was learning to adopt the beginner’s mind, to be curious, and not be attached to any particular answers. It was learning to relax in not knowing, to allow the answers to come, to change the answers over time, even to be wrong, to explore deeper, and to trust the process of asking and receiving answers. I believe this is how I experience growth and how I evolve in all directions: mind-body-spirit. And isn’t that our task on earth?
As I encountered life and all the different challenges it has brought me, I have gradually learned to ask a different set of questions from what I would have asked in my younger days. Here are some examples of the shift in my questions:
1. From 'What did I want to be when I grow up?' to 'What is my calling? What is my purpose on earth?'
2. From 'How could I be as good as, if not better than, anyone else?' to 'How can I create authentic power?'
3. From 'Why did these unfortunate events happen to me?' to 'What are the lessons in all of these experiences?'
4. From 'Why did life seem unfair to me?' to 'What is the best thing that I can do with what I have right now?'
5. From 'What kind of a life partner do I want to be with?' to 'What can I do to be the best version of myself regardless of my relationship status?'
6. From Why do people do those annoying things to me?' to 'What is it in me that needs healing so I won’t be easily triggered by people’s behaviors?'
I may not know all the answers but I dared to ask the questions, the way I did when I was little. Only this time, I didn’t feel bad about asking them, and I didn’t get punished either. In fact, these questions helped me consider different possibilities—ones that I hadn’t even looked at before. This line of questioning required self-reflection. It taught me to look within myself rather than over analyzing what was outside of me. It helped me figure out what I could control so I wouldn’t feel like a victim.
I dare you to ask questions. Ask whatever comes to mind. Don’t judge them. Just notice if they focus on external factors that you cannot control or internal processes that you can control. Then practice shifting the original questions about external circumstances to questions that encourage internal exploration. This will help you know yourself deeper, appreciate your wisdom more, and activate your heart rather than just living in your head.