Children can annoy us with their constant questions yet a teacher comes to value a student who shows curiosity. When interest to go deeper into a subject is shown, the answers desired will be close at hand. Questioning forms a basis from which we discover. A well thought out question opens doors to knowledge and understanding. The popular game show Jeopardy is a creative reversal of the question/answer format of dialogue.
Some people have bridled at my questioning ways. To some folk, my questions have aroused suspicions of ulterior motives. Indeed, the questioner can sometimes be viewed as an intrusive examiner or interrogator in the manner of a police officer or a court room lawyer. My sister and mother used to accuse me of giving them ‘the 3rd degree’ whilst all I was after was an opportunity to find out how they perceived an event. Unfortunately many feel that answering a direct question puts them in a position of potentially being judged. I dated someone for a while who grew annoyed with the level of intimacy that questions and answers provided in our relationship. She would qualify her answers by insisting that her words not be used against her during some later conversation. To her, any question was a potential trap.
I like being asked questions as much as I like giving answers. I’m a sucker for an online survey, somehow feeling honoured that someone or some organization values my opinion. In Canada we are currently undergoing a nationwide census. I felt a bit miffed that I got the short form questionnaire while some of my friends got the long form version. There is certainly controversy in this era of information technology. I fully appreciate how my eagerness to participate and share my thoughts could endanger my privacy. Yet my use of this blog site is a testament to my belief that sharing information can be a healthy way to show that I have feelings and valid thoughts that others might relate to or appreciate.
‘Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies’ is a phrase that has been around for more than a century. Here’s a charming musical admission from Bing Crosby who sings these words in an attempt to avoid a conflict of interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOABpY4PKko
In many current cultures it is still deemed rude to ask someone about their finances, religion, politics or sexual preferences yet these are all important topics that lead us to understand another person’s point of view. There is a diplomatic art to questioning so perhaps a tactful beginning is advisable: “Forgive the intrusion…” or the pre-question question, “May I ask you a question?”
I believe a questioner is making an offering. If there is curiosity of intent and good manners in the delivery then I say nothing ventured, nothing gained. I love it when people tell me that I ask good questions. I also enjoy broadening my understanding of people’s choices. I only wish there was more time to get around to everyone.
I went down a rabbit hole of ideas recently after working on a Jumble Word puzzle: ‘a mad ant’ translated to a surprisingly apt anagram for adamant. Ad-a-mant is a catchy word for a repetitive melody. For days I hummed a one word song using a made up tune. From there, my word search journey took me from early punk rock through to memories of a difficult work colleague.
This word reminded me of Stuart Leslie Goddard, aka Adam Ant! I have no idea if Mr. Goddard created his band Adam and the Ants (and later his solo name) because he was adamant about his musical role in the world. His videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o41A91X5pns seem to scream adamancy, so he must have considered that Adam Ant might be an appropriate label. I thought his chosen name sounded a bit like a Marvel superhero, so I did more research and found Mr. Ant was indeed written up as a comic book character.
Adamancy sounds like something that must be in Latin as part of a heraldic crest. It suggests to my ear, a level of religious zeal. I hear someone say, “This is where I draw a line in the proverbial sand.” Indeed to be adamant is to express serious concern about a topic, principle or behaviour. I asked my partner to describe some things she was adamant about; cleanliness came to her mind first. I wondered what I felt adamant about. I do have a stubborn nature: You can’t tell me what to do! Yet I don’t want to come across as being unbending. I remember a story in my youth that had something to do with how it is better to be a reed in a storm rather than a mighty oak. The latter plant will often crack, be uprooted or break under the relentless force of the wind.
When I am in a heated discussion I will fight for those principles I feel adamantly about. Some of my beliefs are sacrosanct: Autonomy, Optimism, Preparation, Husbandry, Honesty, Forgiveness, Redemption. Hopefully I can make my point without making the other person or group feel threatened. It is a balancing act to be authentic whilst maintaining an open mind to suggestion or persuasion. Listening to a different point of view doesn’t have to make you feel manipulated. Changing my mind doesn’t mean I’ve lost my way.
I once had a conversation with a principal where I worked as a teacher. He was adamant that all his staff pursue a consistent approach in their professional practise. He was a ‘My way or the highway’ kind of guy. I suggested that individually we could reach for consistency in our methodology but what he was really expecting was uniformity. Many people, like this school principal, want others see the world as they do in order to maintain control. This can lead to intolerance, prejudice, bigotry and racism. In any relationship the worst thing you can do is try to change the other.
Conversations can turn into debates. It can be frustrating when points of view are expressed before the context and intent of the dialogue are established. I recently waded into a party chat by saying that one view expressed was faulty and “ignorant”. I tried to provide a definition of the offending word by saying, “I often feel ignorant and I am comfortable with the fact I can’t know everything.” Phewff! The offence was then not taken, a definition had been provided and the conversation continued on safer ground within that context.
I once wished that my parents could have seen me, as an adult, in a different context other than SON. It wasn’t that I wanted to be their friend. I doubt that I ever could have been, but as I got older I yearned to be seen differently. After all: I was not longer living under their roof. I was an established teacher. I was married. I had children of my own.
These facts might have contributed to a new context. The film On Golden Pond explores nicely what I am trying to say. Sometimes it’s hard to change our own views of ourselves, let alone allow others to occupy a different space in our lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIjkFrmSCYU
Politicians and opinion leaders often have their comments taken out of context. This can lead to confusion and even anger unless the elected member’s intentions can be made clear. In our community, for example, there is a debate about the use of horse drawn carriages on our city streets. One city counsellor has proposed that the use of horses on roads should be banned. He argued that animals no longer had a place in a modern city. Others pointed out that the practice was not unsafe or harmful and it added character to the place we call home. This elected official refused to contextualize the presence of this admittedly ‘old fashioned’ practise and thus could not conceptualize its value.
Context refers to the complexity of time, culture and setting. Some have said that “Context is Everything”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Ward_Gouldner
Recently a controversial fellow named Andrew Breitbart has used this phrase to suggest that any behaviour is acceptable based on context, which pushes his right-wing agenda. Perhaps, here is a case of ‘Intent being Everything’.
Another example of context and controversy from our city is the removal of a statue of our country’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald. During his term as nation builder he used his considerable power to assimilate (putting it mildly) Canada’s First Nations. Considering this intent towards an entire culture, Sir John A.’s statue had to go. We live in an era of Reconciliation. The concept of the statue’s presence at city hall was no longer meaningful because a new context could not be found.
I’ve sometimes struggled with my personal context. I’m not static. I’m constantly reviewing my perspective. Others have helped me redefine my context so I can feel harmony.