I love questions. I love thinking them up. I love talking them through. I love hearing them. I love asking them. Even the silly questions small children ask can be fun. Not that I don’t periodically feign having something to do so that I can walk away. But I try to do so without letting on that I am bored because I would never want to quash a questioner.
To me, it is the figurative experience of poking and prodding to see how stable or sturdy something is. It reveals strength or lack of it. Some might think I am specifically looking for a weak position or that I relish tearing something down through the course of my questioning. But that is not true. I love to learn. And it helps that I have a sort of detached relationship with knowledge. When something does not hold up, I would rather know so that I can reconstruct. Rarely do I abandon the entire structure that makes up what I think or believe. Rather questioning is the way to discover what needs to be reconsidered. And ultimately the work makes those thoughts and beliefs better. It’s like finding a leak in the roof and fixing it before a big storm comes.
Questions about religion, faith, God… those can be big, complicated, difficult questions. My religious landscape is like a great outdoor expanse. I construct very little, spending most of my time exploring the possibilities. People looking for certainty aren’t going to find my answers particularly comforting. And so I try to discern when it is best to listen and say little, and when it is best to answer honestly. It helps to recognize when a question is genuinely being asked and different perspectives are welcomed, versus a question that seeks affirmation. It’s the proverbial “Does this make me look fat?” question. You know what you have to say. Nothing good comes from the answer, “maybe just a little” when the person only wants to hear, “No! You look great!”
What I find essential with any serious question is conversation. Conversation allows for differing opinions. Conversation recognizes the limitations each of us brings. Conversation proves to be more about learning from each other than convincing the other. And yet we don’t do conversation well. Just look at what happens with most “conversations” about religion or politics. It resorts, often very quickly, to discrediting the other voice. A narrow perspective makes one live a very small life in a very small world. That is why we need more meaningful conversation and with people who think and see things differently.
This kind of conversation is difficult. We become vulnerable as we expose our thoughts and ideas to others, and can feel threatened by thoughts and ideas that challenge our own. And yet I believe many of us crave conversations that bring us together in spite of our differences. For those of us who want to be part of reconciliation, we know we have to do this better. These are my rules for meaningful conversation:
- Listen. Sounds easy, but rarely is done well. Often the “listener” starts working on a response before the talker has finished making his/her point.
- Be honest. Defensiveness and anger are typically masked hurts. Be real with yourself and others about what you are feeling rather. This takes time and patience with self and others.
- Be respectful regardless of how much you disagree.
- Always looks for what you can learn, rather than what you can teach.
- Recognize that no matter how smart you are, you don’t know it all.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away. Sometimes you don’t know until you’ve begun that a reasonable conversation isn’t going to happen.
- Don’t be an asshole.
While social media is a terrible place for meaningful conversation, it can be a good place to start it. Send me your questions. Message me or post it in the comments section. Let’s explore some of our big questions together. And when a question deeply stirs you, I hope you will find someone to talk with in person, or better yet find a few people. That is where the magic really happens. It also takes more work. I am convinced that to have a few people in your life to whom you can say anything makes all the difference in feeling loved, supported, and connected. And that’s something we all need. No question about it.