Thursday, February 11, 2016

Questions and Answers

Everyone seems to be looking for answers.  We have the collection of human knowledge available at our fingertips anytime, anywhere via Wikipedia, something I consider one of mankind's greatest achievements.  In even the past 100 years, our understanding has grown exponentially. Still we look for answers.

Not only are we on a seemingly endless quest for answers, we are obsessed with having the RIGHT answers. We feel most comfortable with absolutes and dread uncertainty and the unknown.  We love nothing more than correcting each other for even the most minor inaccuracy.

However, there is another point of view - that of Zen Buddhism.
In Zen, the answer is rarely exact, rarely given and, ultimately, rarely important.

Rather, we are encouraged, actually forced, to ask questions.  To question EVERYTHING, especially our own understanding.  Zen is less concerned with the result than it is with the process of inquiry.

This process is what ignites our curiosity and attracts our interest.  Koans (Zen riddles) are used as a kind of "mental isometrics" to make us use our mind power to seek answers to puzzles which are, by design, impossible to answer.  Examples include:

  • what is the sound of one hand clapping?
  • what was your face before your mother and father were born?

Importantly, many koans are designed not only to lead to self-realization, but also to develop a dialog between teacher and student.  Thus, the answer is not relevant, except as an objective to yield awareness and deepen connection, both of which are materially important.

Furthermore, I would argue that this devotion to "answers" is wholly misguided.  An easy question yields and easy answer, which is of little value.  Once we think we know the answer, accepting it often makes our drive to question fade away. We feel satisfied without exploring deeper.  We give up and let go.  For hundreds of years people were content with the answer to "what does our world look like?" being that the Earth was flat and they had no great desire to seek another answer.

However, a perfect question yields a robust and meaningful answer, which relentlessly leads to other good questions.

It is the question, not the answer, that ultimately matters most.

For us, deliberately shifting our focus from seeking answers to asking the right questions empowers us in new and exciting ways.  The right questions allow us to reaffirm our beliefs and goals.  They allow us to increase our awareness and deepen our connections to others.  We need to question ourselves most of all.  Question our beliefs, our understanding, our motivation, our goals, our purpose, our value.  This is critical to developing a balanced sense of self, and identifying our own unique pathway to happiness.

In communication with others, we obsess over having the right answer to what the other person might say.  This is especially true in client meetings.  Rather, it is more important to be focused on asking good questions - questions which engage the other person, encourage them to share and be honest, and deepen our feelings of connectedness.  Asking the right question, not having the right answer, is the cornerstone of good communication and a foundation of good relationships.

Please ask good questions.
I can't promise you I have the answers, but that is not really important anyway.
If you ask the right questions, and right answers will always come in time.

"If my answers frighten you Vincent, then you should cease asking scary questions."
--- Julius Winfield, Pulp Fiction

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