Are you willing to ask hard questions?

Edited excerpt from Back to childhood for a day – or more by Andrés Spokoiny:

We seem to have relegated the question-asking to children, while we, adults, seem confident in our answers and certain of our responses. Indeed, we live in a world where asking questions is a signal of weakness, where doubt is an undesired chink in the armor. Questions are tolerated only when asked by the children, for they are, after all, too young to have any answers.

Our love for unambiguous answers betrays a hidden fear, which rears its ugly head through the high walls of our self-sufficiency: we are afraid of the open-endedness of the question.

Wouldn’t it be liberating to become children again and have the freedom to ask? Shouldn’t we try to abandon the ramparts of our certainties and embark in an adventure of doubt and surprise?

Primo Levi, the holocaust survivor and author of If This Is a Man, was once asked about the monstrosity of Nazism. He said, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

Our inability to question our own beliefs is creating a world of unprecedented polarization and intolerance. Because of our fears, we choose to listen to those who don’t question us, to those who reaffirm our biases. We build echo-chambers, where the same rusty arguments are repeated over and over, and we demonize those that don’t think like us. Because of our fear to question, true conversations have become an endangered species. After all, the requisite of a true dialogue is the capacity to be challenged and transformed.

(1) With time, I increasingly appreciate the value (and difficulty) of asking good questions — in work as well as in other aspects of life. That’s why I devoted a category of this blog to Asking questions and listening.
(2) Re. “embark in an adventure of doubt and surprise”: Doubt can lead to paralysis and inaction. Success comes from proceeding — confidently — based on our best answer to a question. That doesn’t rule out periodically questioning our best answer with a genuinely open mind.

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