The right start is not an answer

I was at an award ceremony (the Horace Mann Awards if you’re curious) and the introduction for one of the awardees took the form of a bunch of acronyms that captured the fellow’s operating style. This approach was more engaging than the usual accolades and I remember a couple of the shorter ones

KWSN stood for “know when to say no.”

ARQ stood for “ask the right questions.”

I like the assertiveness of the first but for all-purpose versatility, it’s hard to top the second. Not every turning point, epiphany, or what have you, hinges on asking the right question, but a whole bunch do.

I think about St. Augustine, whom I know best from the section on him in Action Philosophers, who was puzzling over the question of why is there evil. If all things came from God, then God would have created evil and that isn’t such a godly thing to do.

But St. Augustine pivoted and asked a different question, why is there good. He said all good things come from God and evil is the absence of good things. It is not a thing in its own right.

Now, you might not buy that answer but you have to admit that rephrasing the question took him in a very different direction.

We love to ask questions, such as, why do smart people do dumb things. Or, why can people be considerate with their next door neighbors and tough as nails with people the next town over.

Courtesy of Thirsk via Flickr Creative Commons

I’d be curious to hear the questions that you think are worth asking, and especially the ones that took you in a new direction or opened up new lines of inquiry. I recall the question that sent me down my present path. A fellow dog walker said “Jon, you like to write and you like expressing your opinions. Have you ever thought of journalism?”

I hadn’t but as soon as he said it, it clicked, even if I had no idea what it really meant. The right questions can have that effect. They are magnetic without an obvious reason. But at the same time, I think they connect with certain facts that have been staring us in the face. I did like to write and I certainly enjoyed expressing myself. I just hadn’t realized how much I valued both.

I hope you’ll share the questions that opened your eyes to the obvious.



5 thoughts on “The right start is not an answer

  1. Two questions that turned my current career in the enjoyable, difficult direction it has gone. They came at different times, from different people, and they both reverberated in my head-space long after most thoughts have died a speedy, natural death:

    -Have you considered pursuing that as a non-profit endeavor?
    -Have you considered taking your work back into the corporate environment?

  2. After all my girls had grown into young women, and after several frustrating career variations throughout my adult life, I asked myself “what now, what really makes me happy?” And the answer was being a student. So I enrolled in classes, eventually being admitted to a wonderful degree program; and for the last four years it’s been a constant source of fulfillment, and it improves my career options at the same time. Win win!

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