The question is just as important as the answer – Charlie Rose (Talk show host and journalist)
I’ve always asked a lot of questions.
I’ve had more than one first date where I was asked if I was really a police officer.
I’ve never been a police officer, but I did consider it when I was leaving school.
Instead I started my career in journalism — another obvious job for someone with a big penchant for questions.
So I’ve spent a big part of my life asking all sorts of questions, and being deeply interested in how people answer.
The trouble is I don’t always leave space for others to ask me anything. And until very recently, I never asked myself any of the probing questions that I so easily ask others.
Does that matter?
I think it does.
The power of great questions
I spent last weekend at a Mindfulness for Change hui, with a lot of time for personal inquiry…. in groups.
It’s easy to avoid personal inquiry when the only person you’re in conversation with is yourself — not so easy in a group discussion where everyone needs to show up.
At the start of the weekend we formed into ‘whanau’ groups of five or six people. Throughout the weekend we kept coming back to our whanau with a new question to discuss. One question at a time, the same question for all, and time for everyone to contemplate and answer without interruption.
I was fascinated by how much the conversations opened up for people — stuff we really cared about, wanted or needed, or deeply felt, that we hadn’t clearly seen for ourselves before.
Although the conversations were with groups, the answers weren’t for the group. They were for ourselves.
From question to insight
For almost everyone, the simple process of considering and answering a question opened up powerful personal insights.
That caused me to reflect on the importance of consciously, and regularly, asking ourselves questions about what really matters to us, and listening to our own answers.
When was the last time you contemplated what really matters to you? Not just wondered about it, or felt a sense that something’s somehow missing, but really thought about it?
When I started to see how much the questions were revealing for me, I began writing down both the questions and my answers. Leaving the hui, I felt like I had a precious gift to take away.
The answers have helped me think about my priorities this week and let go of some stuff that was weighing me down. They will guide me through the next few months. And when it feels like they’re not relevant anymore, I will ask the same questions of myself again.
The magic questions?
I don’t think there was any particular magic to the questions we asked. The magic was simply in the asking, and in having the time to reflect, dig deep, and slowly unfurl an answer.
That said, the questions were also gold.
So I’m sharing them with you, so you might have the opportunity to ask them of yourself too:
- What lights the fire in you?
- What gives you hope?
- What do you want to let go of?
- What is your next wise step?
- What do you need? (what do you need help with, what do you need to change, what do you need to do?)
Pretty simple. And pretty powerful.
If they resonate for you, I encourage you to give them a go. Perhaps contemplate one a day over the next few days. Perhaps write them into a journal. Perhaps introduce them in a conversation with a stranger :-). Or at a dinner party. Or with someone you love.
If they don’t resonate, ask yourself something else … Whatever you do, just ask yourself something new. See what more you can learn about you. And see where that could lead you.
You don’t have to share your answers, but I’d love to hear them if you do! And if you’re interested in mine, I’ll share them in the After-word below.
Yours mindfully :-),
Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
- Thank you to the kaitiaki of the Mindfulness for Change hui for all the gifts I have taken away from the weekend.
- Thank you too to my hui whanau! I’m looking forward to seeing where your answers take you.
- What’s the relevance of the picture with this blog? I took it while I was at the hui and it is a reminder for me of a beautiful weekend of presence, unfurling and fun.
- As always, thank you for reading. If you found this blog useful, please share it with others it could be helpful to too (you can use the social media icons below). And if it sparked anything for you, I’d love for you to leave a comment.
- Here are my ‘short answers’ to the questions:
- What lights the fire in me is: being with interesting, inspiring people.
- What gives me hope is: the kindness and the keenness to help that I see in so many people
- What I want to let go of is: feeling over-responsible / needing to have ‘everything under control’
- My next wise step is: to collaborate more and ‘rest in the middle’ of things more often.
- I need to: always give myself freedom.
- I took the concept of resting in the middle from a book that we discussed at the hui, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski. It sounded like a great read and I’ve added it to my reading list.