Why ask? How’s that for a short question? I was thinking recently about how much I’ve used the statement: “Questions drive thinking and answers end thinking.” For the past twenty-five years that statement has been used by me more times than I can remember – probably, many would say I’ve used it too much. When I was teaching, it was common for me to say it on a daily basis to my students. Upon reflection, I’m sure the students were often tired of hearing it.
Ok, let’s consider why many of us don’t ask for what we want and/or need. I suppose many of us have been taught, as small children, to not ask. I know, as I reflect on my own childhood, my parents would often criticize me for asking. They would criticize not only questions asked to them, but especially questions that I asked other adults. I think some parents encourage their children not to ask questions to adults because they don’t want their children to be disrespectful and/or aggravating. I suppose there is some merit to that line of thinking.
But, couldn’t (or shouldn’t) we consider the “act-of-asking” as a necessary tool for life? How many people value asking? When we are not having to deal with raising children and we are simply relating to fellows adults, why not ask? I’m not talking about a rude, disrespectful, whining, inconsiderate, and/or unnecessary request. No, I’m talking about a courteous, respectful, considerate, and/or necessary request. Tony Robbin’s former employer, Jim Rohn, once said: “Asking is the beginning of receiving.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement. Generally, if you’re going to receive something, asking, in some form or another, is involved.
Earlier, I mentioned that my parents had criticized me for asking questions. I was in elementary school during the fifties and in high school/college during the sixties. A Canadian woman, Buffy Sainte-Marie, who was a member of the Canadian First Nations and five years older than I am, has often been quoted as proclaiming: “By looking at the questions the kids are asking, we learn the scope of what needs to be done.” After going to high school and college in the sixties, teaching high school for thirty years and raising two children, I think there’s a lot of truth to Ms. Sainte-Marie’s statement. When I look back on my own questions as a kid, and consider all of the kid’s questions I’ve been asked over the years, what needs to be done is generally driven by the questions the kid’s ask.
From another point of view, consider Robert Heller’s mantra of, “Effective management always means asking the right questions.” Of course, you can’t ask the right questions unless you ASK questions. It’s important to not be fooled into thinking that you shouldn’t ask questions.
As a child, I thing more than anything, my parents were not prepared to answer the questions I was asking. At the time, I usually stopped when I was criticized for asking questions, but I now think a better approach would have been to keep asking. I should have continued asking, even if I was criticized for doing so. Asking is one of the most powerful paths a person can take for success! It also helps a person to be happier. There is a sense of fulfillment when I have asked all questions I think are appropriate, even if none of my questions were answered. I feel like I know I tried by best. Wow – “I feel like I know I tried” – what a sequence of words! :-)
I realize that asking can sometimes make a person look and/or feel like a fool. And, I also realize that not asking can be an approach that allows one to not take the risk of “looking like a fool.” But, when you view the act of asking from the perspective of the person being asked, you often find that it creates value for that person. Just by nature of asking a question, you give the person implied respect. When we want to know an answer to a question, we normally don’t ask someone we think is not capable of answering it.
Consider an example of a person walking into a room full of people and seeking an answer to a question. How does the person decide who to ask. Perhaps the most friendly looking person or a person who appears to be in a leadership role or a mature looking adult or … Is s/he going to ask a person who s/he thinks will not give a reasonable (correct) answer? Usually not! The point is that being asked a question can be a sign of respectfulness afforded by the questioner. This reminds me of a quote from Thomas Berger (author of Little Big Man and many other books): “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”
Why ask? To learn! Why learn? Oh, c’mon, shouldn’t we always learn? Here is an old Danish proverb that shames us into asking: “He who is afraid of asking is ashamed of learning.” Why ask? :-)
So, I ask, what are your thoughts about asking?