I can’t help asking questions. I’m always asking questions, but I have learned not to ask some questions out loud. If I had a super-power, it would be asking questions. Questions are helpful because they keep us accountable, and challenge us to examine our motives and processes to find error or better efficiency.
In my experience, too often those who ask questions are relegated to the outskirts with the dissenters, trouble-makers and pot-stirrers. And some people may use questions to do all those things, but it’s always been fairly evident to me the difference between a question meant to offend or cause dissent and a question looking to find truth or understand a concept or process. The two should be treated differently.
We should be encouraged to ask questions — not just of the church, but of ourselves and our faith. Question everything, because then you have an answer for why you do what you do, why you think what you think. You understand the process of finding an answer for yourself when a particular way of thinking is challenged.
Because for those who can’t help asking questions, most of the time our questions are not rooted in a desire to stir up controversy or “poke the bear” at all, but out of a desire to see something improve, to better understand something, or answer a felt need.
Here are four questions I have learned to ask of myself before I voice a question out-loud.
Determine if you have a good question
When you’re genuinely, humbly, seeking knowledge or explanation there’s no such thing as a dumb question. However, outside of that there are plenty of dumb questions available. Dumb questions are meant to shame, cast doubt on, divide, tear down, or belittle. We’ve all been the victim of these kinds of questions:
Are you really going to wear that out in public?
This kind of passive-aggressive, back-handed, (insert impolite word) needs to be called out and eradicated. Say what you mean or don’t say it. There is no such thing as the gift of criticism. Questions voiced out loud should help to build up not tear down.
Question your own motives first.
I am the kind of person who is always evaluating what I’m doing, where I’m going, and how I’m going to reach that goal. I’m measuring success, obstacles, and how I’ve veered off the path. I’m analytical by nature – probably the reason why I love questions so much. If I dig down and examine what’s going on in my heart, the statements I’m making internally, often my motives for asking a particular question become clear.
Asking questions is not a mark of immaturity, but the kind of questions you ask may be. Why are you asking this? Why are you asking this of that person? Pray first. See the last point.
Always seek to ask a better question.
Instead of asking – why is that person so hard to get along with, a better question may be – what do I have in common with them? Always examine how your question can help, repair, build up, or restore. Questions that make you feel like you’re better than someone else, are rooted in taking people down a notch, or in making someone see things your way, are of the passive-aggressive, back-handed variety (see point #1).
There’s a better question if you look for it, but it will almost always require you to humble yourself first.
Give your question time to steep
I have learned to keep many questions to myself partly because I think it’s wise to let your questions steep. What I mean by that is, asking questions as they come to you means that sometimes they’re not fully brewed. Half-brewed questions come out wrong, are misinterpreted, and can be offensive. Half-brewed questions can be motivated by hurt feelings, immaturity, or only half the information.
Once I’ve let the question fully brew, then I decide: is this question helpful? If you decide to ask a question that will cause a stir, please see the next point before you book that meeting, send that email/text, arrange to have coffee with the person to whom the question will be directed at.
Seek Out A Safe Place
What those who love to ask questions need is a safe place/person to talk out their questions. This should be part of the steeping process. I always find it helpful to talk out my thoughts and have someone challenge my wrong thinking and my pride. Sometimes I walk away more determined to ask my question. Most of the time, I walk away from this process without an answer and choose to let that question go. Sometimes even good questions are better left unasked — or asked later.
Are you a question-asker by nature? Do you know someone who is? What advice would you add to this list?