Feb 6, 2018

Yes, We Should Ask Each Other More Questions

By Alison Andreasen

I live in a small, rural community where many of us are related by blood or marriage. Every now and then you hear that someone is sick or dying. I could make a fortune if I charged a dollar for every time someone says, “Well, I never knew!” or “No one would have guessed!”  

How is this even possible? In a small town where we know each other’s names, you’d think everyone would know about each other’s struggles, too. But we don’t. Maybe our independence is a remnant of the pioneer mentality that proved useful many generations ago. Some people like to be private--both when times are good and also in times of difficulty. But, perhaps there is another reason we aren’t aware of what is going on in the lives of those around us: We have stopped asking each other questions. And why have we stopped asking questions? I think there are several reasons.

First, we forget that people aren’t stagnant, never-changing creatures. For example, we think that happy-go-lucky neighbor who helped us move into our house is still the happy-go-lucky neighbor, just several years older. That grouch living on the corner has always been that way and will always be that way.

We all know this not to be true of ourselves. We are always changing: happy one day, sad at the loss of a loved one the next. The same is true of others. Our neighbors near and far are humans in flux. We do a great disservice to their humanity when we expect them to be more like machines that never change.  

Second, we tend to be narcissistic, and when we see others acting differently toward us, we assume it has something to do with us. We think that they may not like us anymore, or that they don’t want us to bother them. Yet, deep down, we know that this might not be the case. It is more likely that the new attitude has nothing to do with us, but rather is an outward reflection of their own internal struggles.

Third, asking good questions is hard work. We have to take the time to think about a person and consider their situation, family, and what we already know about them. A simple gesture takes a lot of effort on our part and it is often easier not to put forth the effort.

Fourth, we are simply out of practice. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter encourage people to speak their minds when they have a thought they would like others to know. This has left many with the impression that if something is important, someone will share it publicly, whether it be grief, sickness, or joy. If they don’t, we assume they are fine.

The observation skills and empathy that it takes to ask questions are no longer taught. Once upon a time, children were taught to ask polite questions to visitors in their home. Both the art of asking questions respectfully and the art of knowing when to stop a line of questioning altogether was observed, encouraged, and discussed. Opportunities for meaningful conversations were protected from outside distractions and children saw adults asking each other questions.

The reasons for our lack of question-asking are many. But one thing is for certain--most people appreciate being asked about their hopes, dreams, views, and thoughts. When the relationship is shown to be a caring and receptive one, individuals will also share concerns and struggles, which gives us opportunities to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.

Here’s a challenge for us all! Let us ask questions: small questions like “How’s the weather?” or “What do you do for a living?” and ask thoughtful questions like “What are you scared of?” or “What brings you the greatest joy?” And then let us take the time to listen! Let’s stop assuming we know everything there is to know about someone and instead take the position of an inquirer who is interested in learning something new.

Our home should be the first place we try an attitude of inquiry. We often err when we think that the person we married is the same person we are married to today. People change. You may be delighted at what you hear! Asking questions of our children shows care for them. It also models good communications skills. Our home sphere is where our actions have the most impact. Let us start our challenge there.

Next, we can ask questions of those in our church family, then those with whom we work or see in the community. How much richer those relationships would be when people care about each other! Let us fight the urge of our culture to assume that people will inform us of all the changes in their lives or assume that a person’s change in behavior has to do with us. Let us put forth the effort of formulating and asking questions and rediscover the art of asking questions. We will all be better for it.


Alison lives in rural South Dakota where she enjoys life on the prairie as a dual parish pastor’s wife and mother of four. She loves locally grown food, foraging with her family, reading classic literature she's never read before, and day dreaming. Her passions for theology and children have led her to create resources for families that can be seen at Good News for Olive Shoots

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