Whose Questions Are You Answering?

We ask and answer questions every day.  When a colleague or supervisor asks about the status of a project, that’s (usually) a straightforward question deserving of a straightforward answer.

That’s not the type of question that’s been on my mind in recent weeks.

There are much more difficult questions that are pointing toward important — even life changing —decisions.  Should I move?  Is it time for graduate studies?  Where should we send our children to school? Am I spending my money wisely?  Should I consider a job change?  Is it time to reach out to a colleague or friend who is struggling?  What is the right response to today’s political environment?  When is the right time to retire?  How should I deal with an aging parent?

Questions

Too often I find myself facing those types of questions as framed by someone else.  We are — in effect — asking and answering someone else’s questions.

“Many of us are busy and anxious. We are social animals: We listen for the culturally normative thing to do among our friends and, most often, follow it. This is what Aristotle, and later a lot of Internet evangelists, called the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and what Hannah Arendt might have called the ‘banality of evil.’”

In listening for and following the culturally normative thing to do among our friends, we make decisions about where to live, the best schools for our children, how to spend our money, where we work, when to provide advice, how to vote, and on and on based on what others are telling us.  I find myself doing this all the time.

But there are some questions that should force you to decide just whose values you are adopting.  The writer Courtney E. Martin frames it as, “…there are certain decisions, I’m realizing, that should make my heart ache, if not break.”  She notes that at least one friend of hers had a breakthrough when — while agonizing over a decision — someone asked her the simple question, “What is your work here?”

As you face the questions in your life that really matter, think about what your work should be in that context.  And make sure you first understand just whose questions you are answering.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

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