Letter from the editor

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ask me a question

Boiled right down to it, all I really do for a living is ask questions.

"Why are you running for office?"

"What made him pull the trigger?"

"How much will it cost us?"

"Who? What? Where? Why? When? How? Whoa - are those things real? And always, can you spell your name for me?"

It gets to be automatic. Too automatic.

But then one day, my daughter started demanding of me at every supper, "Ask me a question!"

I wasn't prepared for that. She's not a politician or a cop or a performer. The everyday questions would not do.

The girl isn't really asking for a quiz - she should get plenty of those in school all day. I think it is her way of connecting - and testing.

I learn a little about her from how she answers. And she perhaps learns a little about me from what I choose to ask. The girl is no fool. "Ask me a question" - it is not a bad exercise.

It makes me realize though, that for a professional questioner, I need some remodeling work on my questions.

Maybe we all do. What is it we ask people?

How are you? It's automatic. "Fine," is the answer, no matter if they have just won the gazillion-dollar Lotto or been diagnosed with leprosy. Nothing learned in a "fine."

What's up? Where do you work? Do you know Jimbo? How much does that pay these days? Republican or Democrat? Catholic or Protestant? Nike or Reebok? Where did you buy that outfit ['cause I sure don't want to shop there!!]? Nice day, isn't it?

It occurs to me that many of the people I converse with regularly, I don't really know at all - not in a real way, anyhow.

I don't want that to be the case with my daughter, so I'm going to have to work on my questioning skills.

One of my favorite writers, Oriah Mountain Dreamer, provides some insight in this direction in her wonderful poem, "The Invitation."

"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living..." she writes.

"I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day..."

"I want to know if you can live with failure

Yours and mine

And still stand at the edge of the lake

and shout to the silver of the full moon,


There now, my friends, that is a question.

Maybe if we asked better questions, we would know our neighbors better, be less surprised when people we assumed were "fine" suddenly go to pieces, and elect fewer buffoons. And know better what is bouncing around in the heads and hearts of the people we love.

No, I'm not going to learn much about you from a muttered "fine" - but what is it I really want to know about people, anyway?

* Not how are you, but who are you? So who are you, really? Not what you show people, but at the core. Have you thought about it?

* Would you rather be a senator or an NBA center? Why?

* What do you dream about that you never tell anybody?

* If it comes down to it, if the reason is right, would you stand in the fire beside me and fight, or would you run?

* Boxers or briefs? Bikini or thong? C'mon, you know you want to know. Commando you say? Ewww, that, I didn't need to know.

* I don't care much about the brand name of your religion, if you have one. Creation or no? Why? - That'll tell me all I need.

* When life has you tired and bruised to the bone, what is the one motivation that somehow gets you up to try again?

* What couldn't you live without?

* If I reached out my hands to you right now, without explaining why, would you take them?

* Do you mind looking like a fool sometimes?

* Where's your thinking place?

* If you're alone in the house, would you still close the door to tinkle?

* Do you believe in things science can't explain?

* What are you thinking about when you look at the stars?

* Where do you wish you were, if you could be anywhere?

* Fate or destiny? Spirit or soul? Dogs or cats? Forest or beach? Imagination or practicality? Run or bike?

* What is your secret? You know you have one. And, hey, was it worth saving it?

* What could I do that would really, really annoy you?

* What one song makes your heart dance?

* What are you afraid of? And if you answer "nothing," are you aware what a liar you are?

* What question are you wishing I would ask, because you are just dying to tell someone?

Watch out, daughter, next time you ask for it, I'm ready.