Saturday, January 22, 2011

Asking Questions

I've always been one to ask a lot of questions. When I was young I remember asking question after question, wanting to understand 'what this means', 'how this works', and 'why this is'. My parents were willing to indulge my questions, but it wasn't too long after going to school that I started to develop negative correlations with my many questions.

When I was in school, I had a feeling of isolation from a number of my classmates. There were kids who weren't listening to the teacher, kids who were too intimidated or insecure to ask a question, or kids who weren't motivated enough to ask questions because they didn't realize the benefit questioning could have. Therefore, I felt alone as I stuck my hand high in the air, looking down at those other kids who were slumped down, trying to hide in their chairs.

This latter type of person, the unmotivated questioner, has become an epidemic that I see prevalent in a lot of people (of all ages) today. These people are acting on what they are being told, without questioning it enough to know why they are acting, or whether or not they prefer the action over another one they could freely choose.

It's easy to be pulled along, responding to what you are being told, believing the world is as the people around you are telling it is, and not worrying about other possibilities of existence. This is due to fear of too many options. To avoid overwhelm and failure, we settle.

I did and still do think that it's important to ask questions. I wouldn't have been able to self-motivate and create things for myself if I didn't know why contrasting behaviors wouldn't be beneficial. Trial and error is how we learn, and it involves questioning ourselves before, during and after our active choices. 

However. The next experience I began having in school as I got older, into high school, was a lack of encouragement by my teachers. Some teachers just wanted to get through their curriculum, other teachers probably felt that holding onto one topic for too long was appealing to the lowest common denominator when they needed to keep an average pace to appeal to the general population of students. Either way, many times I was sitting in class, with my hand raised for five minutes, the muscles slowly losing strength, only to have my teacher admit that they weren't going to call on me because I was asking too many questions.

"A symptom of not listening is asking too many questions". This is something that I wrote down the other day and it struck me. I've been having concerns about my focus and deeply listening - can there be too many questions?

I did stop asking so many questions as a result of being ignored (or so it felt) in class. And then, I realized that to many kids, it was cool to pass notes and not pay attention to the teachers. I was pulled into that world, where I began to perfect my skills of half-listening and multi-tasking.

So was it the teacher's fault? I don't suppose so - with a class full of students you can only answer so many from each of them. Was it my fault for not really listening and just trying to think of a question for everything I heard? I wouldn't imagine so - I was learning how to question and understand everything around me, all the time. What really happened, which was no one's fault, was that I went from one extreme, and once learning it was not ideal, went to the other extreme.

I keep coming back to balance. It's all one huge balancing act, and being too aggressive or too passive in the approach yields similarly unsuccessful results. And there isn't a spreadsheet with numerical limits to my questions to keep me aware of when I'm asking too many - "Oh! No, you asked 6 questions in the past 3 minutes. Sorry, you have to wait two minutes before you have another question in your queue."

Ha - spreadsheets and clearly outlined rules - of course I would ask for that.

I've been attempting to allow my questions to come through one at a time. It's sort of like eating: if I ask a question and sit with the response for a little bit, sometimes when I go to ask my next question I'll realize I'm 'full' sooner than I expected and I don't really need to ask the next question.

I need patience so I can review what I know and have just learned and make sure it stays in my mind, before I go and try to stuff more things in there. Previously, my technique involved replacing the thing I had learned before with the new thing I just learned. Didn't make for creating broader contexts from which more knowledge could be inferred.

Speaking slowly and asking questions slowly - I definitely sound like I'm from the west coast now :-)

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