Ask (Part 1)

by Don Hartness

Nothing in life is gained without first asking for it. Dwell on that for a moment.

From the moment you first came from the womb, you acquired food, attention, and the changing of your soiled underwear by crying for it. You learned to ask for assistance. As a child, you amused your parents with your first requests. As you grew, you refined your requests, transforming your parent’s amusement to exasperation.

As you continued to grow, you discovered an entire world begging you to ask for its secrets. So, you began to ask, to inquire, to poke and probe into your world, exploring all that it had to offer. You learned to ask for knowledge (information, wisdom, etc). As you found puzzles you could not solve, you began to ask your parents for answers, furthering their exasperation.

This dynamic continued into adulthood. Regardless of what you asked for, two things quickly became clear. First, you realized that some things would always need asking. As a child, you asked for things until you were capable of acquiring them without help. You now realized that you would never be capable of acquiring some things, whether due to time constraints, ability, or desire. Hence, you learned to ask the doctor, lawyer, chef, and banker, rather than learn medicine, law, culinary arts, or finances.

Second, you also learned that who was just as important as what when asking. You learned this when you discovered that the smart doctor, as intelligent as she was, proved to be a poor source for legal advice.

For most, this was enough. However, some of us reached higher, asking questions for which the answers were more opinion than certifiable fact.  Before, the validity of any answer was verifiable by observation and/or simple testing; now, few (if any) of the answer(s) were of this nature. The harder you tried, the more elusive the answer(s) became.

You became frustrated. You began to lose hope. You became cynical. You traded asking for receiving, questions for answers. You settled on a best guess. You even began to defend your answers in the face of questions and answers submitted by others, refusing to reopen the original questions to scrutiny. You stopped asking. On that day, part of you died inside.

What went wrong? Your error is contained within this axiom, an axiom you can deposit in your account.

Wisdom is gained, not by finding the right answers, but in asking the right questions.

To put it another way: where did you go wrong? You stopped asking.

The better the question, the better the answer. A better answer yields two things: more wisdom, and a better question than the last. The answers are not the end: they are only mile markers on life’s journey. Want to enter your grave prematurely? Stop asking questions. Stop seeking answers.

Does this mean your current answers are wrong? Not necessarily. The answers are for the questions you asked. The questions are the destinations; the answers are the stones you step on. If you find yourself on the wrong path, or at a dead-end, then the solution lies in one of two areas: either you found the wrong answer to the right question, or you asked the wrong question.

Fixing the answers is easy. Fixing the questions is hard and takes a lifetime of discipline. It takes a lifetime of asking.

You don’t get there all at once. Just as a professional athlete reaches the pinnacle of success by endless hours of work, perspiration, training, and planning, so too will you learn to ask the right questions through a lifetime of hard work, perspiration, training and planning. Along the way, you will make many mistakes. That’s okay; it’s all part of the process.

Stop asking, and you stop training.

What do you desire? Knowledge? Illumination? Character? Whatever it is, the path is the same as your first day out of the womb: ask for it, either from others or rhetorically. Compare the answers as you compare the questions.

Do so in humility, and you will find the answers quicker.

Identify weakness, error, and pools of ignorance within yourself, more than others. Consider any answer presented, even if it is from the mouth of a fool. For even a fool can accidentally dispense wisdom. Sometimes, you will discover that the fool is you.

Who is the fool? The one who believes that (s)he has all the answers. Even when you think you have all the answers (measured by a lack of questions left to ask), this is just a sign to go back and start the process again.

SO ASK!. And never stop asking. Be ruthlessly persistent, never settling on a “final answer”, but always willing to reconsider even scientific laws. All human knowledge advances in proportion to the willingness to question even that which is sacred.

Wisdom is measured by the grasp of a total answer without boundaries. You will never reach the sunrise, no matter how hard you run.

Pursue it anyway.