February 12, 2017
A question becomes more than just a question when it’s transformed from a superficial or challenging statement into an expression of love.
The image above is the infinity symbol – two circles elegantly and inextricably linked. Read on to see what they represent–the most fundamental components of your relationship toolbox.
In Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett suggests there are three types of questions she deals with most often – simplistic, combative and generous.
Riffing off that idea, here’s what I came up with:
Simplistic questions can be a problem because they tend to generate simplistic and superficial answers.
By simplistic I’m not referring to the mundane, everyday questions we ask, like: “How’s the weather?” or “What do you want to drink?”.
I’m talking about narrow and loaded questions that suggest one already knows the answer. They imply that if you don’t agree, you’re an idiot! They’re not combative in that they assume agreement and compliance. Questions like: “Don’t you just hate that?”, “Isnt she an idiot?”, and “Come on now, where’s that pretty smile?”
Combative questions tend to be black and white, generate divisiveness, and create a strangle hold on existing positions and opinions.
“So you’re saying I should just give up and let the bad guys win?!”, and “How can you think that?!” are combative, defensive questions that will serve to either end a conversation or keep someone mired in a position they may be unable to defend but will surely be unwilling to explore further with you.
Generous questions are expressed in a vein of openness and curiosity. They generate wonder and excitement, and sometimes, suggest a connection between two people that may reflect a love that bears no resemblance to the romantic notions we hold about love.
“Help me understand how you arrived at your understanding of that”, and “Please tell me more”, are both generous questions hidden within statements that express my deep desire to more fully understand you and the topic we’re discussing.
A question becomes more than a question when it tells you that I want to learn, understand and grow with you and from you. And that will never happen if I think I already know the answer.
Personally, I wonder about everything. But mostly I wonder: “What do you really think about things?”
Once I started paying attention to the way I phrase questions, it didn’t take long to see that my questions don’t always reflect my sincere curiosity. Often they evoke responses that tend to be as incomplete or misguided as my questions!
Words matter. When I’m not careful, when I’m on automatic pilot, my questions fall into the first two camps – simplistic and/or combative.
To ask generous questions that will result in a more meaningful connection between us, I need to go into our interaction with an openness and curiosity that doesn’t always come naturally.
I suspect that generous questions are impossible without deep and patient listening skills. And I think the converse is also true — we can’t experience true and generous listening without generous questioning skills. They are inextricably linked.
Generous listening results in our ability to ask generous questions, and is perhaps the primary gateway to real love. Because it allows us to connect. And we are hard-wired to want to connect with each other.
After all, isn’t that fleeting butterfly experience of two souls meeting, seeing and connecting with each other, what love is all about?
I think we have it all wrong when we take for granted that once we’re ‘in love’ it’s forever. I think it happens intermittently, and must be nurtured again and again. And I’m not just talking about romantic love. I’m talking about the love between parents and children and siblings, and the love we sometimes feel for friends and clients and even relative strangers.
I suspect that it’s humanly impossible to remain in a state of perpetual love. But if we meet each other with the intention to ask more generous questions and to practice generous listening, it seems likely that our ability to experience true love more often can be powerfully increased.
These are the tools that allow me to see you with no strings, no need for you to be anything other than who and what you are, a unique spirit with whom I’m trying to make a momentary connection.
As a reminder, I carry a visual in my head of the infinity symbol – two circles elegantly and inextricably linked – representing generous listening and generous questions.
My intention is to listen with presence, openness, curiosity and humility. My desire is to abandon certainty. I think I’ll be putting less weight on reaching agreement and more weight on understanding you. Join me?