At what age do we learn to stop asking questions?
Is it elementary school, high school? Is it when whatever adult or leader you turn to has said “it just is” enough times that it sinks in that you’re not going to hear much more than that? Is it that your questions did not have answers? Was that frustrating?
I was a child that asked questions- unlikable ones. Many of the authority figures in my life- especially the male ones- did not appreciate the questions I asked. I was often encouraged to ask less questions.
These weren’t questions like ‘why is the sky blue?’, but rather, questions that constituted a challenge to status quos. To myths of authority; to dismissal of abuse; to neglect and addiction. I saw how those who asked easier questions or didn’t ask questions at all were safer, but I couldn’t seem to help myself.
Why is this okay? Why is no one doing anything? Why is this the way it is?
A sample of my recent Google searches:
- what time does the sun set tonight? (8:53 p.m.)
- how long should you wait after bleaching your hair before you swim in a lake? (probably more than 24 hours)
- what’s the word for the mind’s struggle with holding two opposing ideas? (I was thinking of ‘cognitive dissonance’)
This is the age of information- so much directly at our fingertips. Gone are the days of ‘not knowing’, replaced with Wikipedia articles and cherry-picked search results. This entitlement to knowledge has even further disallowed space for “wrong”, for “unknown”, though many answers will not be found in the results of a corporate owned search engine.
But what about the value of the not knowing? Why is the power in the certainty, in the righteousness, in being ‘right’?
I remember being 17 years old and trying to find my place within the spheres of the LGBTQIA+ community. Feeling the pressure of being uncertain and feeling that was not okay. Pressure, perhaps partially, from myself, but not without an idea of the social responsibility of owning an identity. I didn’t want those with hate in their hearts to call me ‘confused’ or ‘misguided’, but I also desired the permission to be undefinable. To leave space for Not Knowing. I settled on the term queer as a compromise.
What if I never settle on an identity? Can I walk through the world a fragment rather than a complete sentence? What if my body-my Self- is a question?
Listening to the new July Talk album, their first song struck a chord within me:
I want to be changed/ I want to be rearranged (…) I want to be transformed
I do. I want to be a part of a constant evolution, a constant shifting of self, a growing & expanding & rearranging. Unconfined by restrictions of space inflicted by certainty and righteousness.
From what I understand of science (not a ton), much of it has to do with the questions. Like the age-old adage, it’s the journey, not the destination, often what comes up in experiments are not the answers you seek but are answers all the same. The best discoveries arise when you’re not seeking them.
Perhaps, it’s not the search for answers, but the act of questioning. Can we bring the process of discovery into practice within cultural and personal spheres?
We cannot find solutions without first acknowledging problems. No more “that’s just how it is”. Why is that how it is? How did it get here? What could a better system look like? How could we get there?
“That’s just how it is” is a lack of imagination. A lack of imagination motivated by the privilege that in many ways “how it is” works for you. Those treated most cruelly ask the most questions and are given the most scorn from those happy with the current answers.
Can we perhaps begin the practice of disassociating “right and wrong” from “correct and incorrect”? How can positions of morality be the same as answers to a math test? How much can we really rely on the constantly changing tides of morality? If morality is based in religion, and religion has historically been a tool of patriarchy, often of whiteness, of wealth- why should we continue to rely on it?
Can we, instead, begin a practice of centering love, solidarity, and growth? I previously wrote of loving the act of creating, can we also love the questioning? Can we love the dialogue and creation that births from questions, rather than searching for ‘right’ answers? Can we stop fearing the “failure” of being “wrong”?
(P.S. I’ve just discovered that the etymology of ‘right’ (ironically) is Old English riht: “proper, fitting; straight, not bent, direct, erect”)
adrienne maree brown writes in emergent strategy:
“We need to move from competitive ideation, trying to push our ideas, to collective ideation, collaborative ideation. It isn’t about having the number one idea, but having ideas that come from, and work for, more people.”
I would like to ask questions, and respond with more questions, with wildly imaginative ideas, with conversation and connection that allows the “answers” to grow and expand in wildly kaleidoscopic directions. I would like to acknowledge that often the answers will not arrive soon, or possibly even in this lifetime, but that they would not arrive at all if the questions are not asked. I would like to ask questions because I cannot bear to become someone who turns a blind eye and says, “that’s just the way it is”. And I want to reclaim, I want to live, I want to love these questions.