Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century


Thursday, July 5, 2007

“Everything you believe is questionable. How deeply have you questioned it? The uncritical acceptance of beliefs handed down to you by parents, teachers, politicians and religious leaders is dangerous. Many of these beliefs are simply false. Some of them are lies designed to control you. Even when what has been handed down is true, it is not your truth. To merely accept anything without questioning it is to be somebody else’s puppet, a second-hand person.”Beliefs can be handed down. Knowledge perhaps can be handed down. Wisdom can never be handed down. The goal of philosophy is wisdom. Trying to hand down a philosophy is unphilosophical.

Wisdom requires questioning what is questionable. Since everything is questionable, wisdom requires questioning everything. That is what philosophy is: the art of questioning everything.

The above quote is from the introductory philosophy textbook The Experience of Philosophy 3rd Ed., by Danial Kolak and Raymond Martin.

All my life I have been in love with questions. I would never accept “because I said so,” or “because that’s the right way”. I have always wanted to know “why?”

Questions are the doors to possibilities, the doors to change and the doors to living well. After all, what is wisdom, except the ability to question and make choices that create a high quality of life. Wisdom is the ability to make healthy choices from the vast possibilities available.

In areas of life from the profound to the mundane, every new question entertains a new possibility. Einstein asked, “What would it be like to travel on a beam of light?” and his search for the answer changed our understanding of the universe. Asking a better question can change our lives just as dramatically. Simple changes, such as asking, “How can I make this easier for myself?” instead of “Why am I so stupid?” or “How can I communicate with that person?” instead of “Why is that guy such a jerk?” Asking a different question gives us a different answer and when the answer translates into action we produce a new result. Questions create change. The fastest way to change the world is by asking creative new questions. As well, the easiest way to adapt to a rapidly changing world is to ask many questions.

For centuries beliefs have been handed down as knowledge and wisdom. From the time we are born everyone tells us how the world is and how we should behave to fit into it. Years of education teach us to memorize answers, but rarely teach us to ask better questions.

Most of what we learn from others teaches us how the world was for them. In fact, the world changes every day, scientific knowledge changes every day, and we change every day. Most changes happen in small increments so we are often not aware of them. We think the world is the same until something big happens: the spouse asks for a divorce, our job no longer exists or an illness throws life into disarray. We become so attached to what we know, to the answers that we hold, that often we are afraid to entertain any questions.

Yet to live with questions is to be open to all possibilities. Asking questions enables us to adapt, to change, to grow and to create. The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet urges us to live the questions:

“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Never, in the history of the human race have we lived in such a time of accelerated change. We need to adapt every day. We need to ask questions.

1 Comment »


Comment by Peggy

July 23, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

Yes! I love the open-endedness of this piece. It made me think of the letters and emails we send to politicians (or intend to send) and how they might be more powerful if they weren’t so confrontational or critical. One is so much more open to consider alternatives when presented with questions. How better could we make a difference in Afghanistan? What are some options for ending child poverty? – then offer some ideas. People do get their backs up when told they are wrong and you have all the right answers.
Hey, I like this a lot.

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