Searching for Peace (In the way we ask questions)


People don’t ask questions.

I mean it. Sure, we ask innocuous questions like, “How much is that furless guinea pig in the window?” (even though we have no intention of buying it…we’re just curious about how much shit like that costs) and “How’s things going?” (and they’d better not tell us the truth or we’ll stop asking them).

The thing with questions like this is that they don’t change anything. They don’t really mean anything. They’re elevator questions filling up the background of communication. Like a clear subject in a photograph with a faded background (technical term is bokeh…pronounced bokeh). But without the clear subject.

I think the main reason we don’t ask meaningful questions is that we’re afraid of the answers. How long does a husband or wife put off asking, “Are you seeing someone?”

I used to be a bartender. I worked in the games room of a club, which was quiet for most of the night, so I got to know some of the customers well as they sat at the bar building liquid courage for the evening ahead. One of those customers was Hakusata (name changed to protect her innocence) who came in early in the evenings for a couple of months and tortured herself over thinking that her husband was having an affair. In situations like this, bartenders are supposed to say something infinitely insightful, or just keep their mouths shut and nod agreement when appropriate. But one night, after a couple of months nodding and keeping my mouth shut, I had to ask, “Why don’t you just ask him if he’s seeing someone?”

She looked at me astounded, lips quivering, on the verge of tears, and said, “Because he’ll tell me he is. And then it’ll be over.”

So, I suppose not having a clear answer to a clear question meant that it wasn’t really happening, that everything was fine. But more importantly, it meant that nothing had to change. It wouldn’t be over. It would just go on and on.

Things wouldn’t change.

The vast majority of us hate change. We become emotionally and intellectually lazy in places where we’re not likely to make mistakes because we know the rules of the way. Asking questions can really fuck up complacency. Unless, of course, the question is background music in front of a clear subject that you don’t want to see.

I’ve worked for a number of IT startup companies. One thing you can be sure of in an IT startup is that 99 percent of them are going to have shaky periods and most will likely go under within the first two or three years. There’s this thing so many of them have in common: the layoff. I’ve seen so many of these. Times when staying in business meant paring down the staff. Thing is…we all knew when these times were coming. But very few had the nerve to go to management and ask, “Are there going to be layoffs?” And then ask, “Am I going to be one of them?”

OK, in a situation like that, they’re probably going to lie to you…so you might ask, “Why bother to ask the question?”

Got an answer for that one. Because if you’ve come to the point where you find yourself asking those questions, then it’s time to start sending out resumes. Before the axe falls.

The simple act of asking a meaningful question clarifies things in itself. If you’re brave enough for the question, then you’re brave enough for the answer.

“Hey, Biff,” said the fox. “I have a question.”

“Go ahead, fox,” I said. “Ask away.”

“Does my grin really disturb you?” said the fox. “Go ahead…I’m brave enough for the answer.”

“Yes, fox,” I said. “Your grin really really disturbs me.”

“Bastard,” said the fox.

“You asked,” I said.

“Ever hear about little white lies, Biff?” said the fox.

“Fox,” I said, “are you happy with your life?”

“I have fur and a tail, Biff,” said the fox. “What’s not to be happy about?”

“Good point,” I said. “You know what one of the toughest questions is for people these days, fox?”

“How does my hair look?” said the fox. “Oh…sorry ‘bout that, Biff.”

“I’m going to ignore that, fox,” I said.

Damn thing grinned. I won’t go into details.

“Am I happy with what I’m doing with my life?” I said. “That’s the toughest question.”

“How’s that, Biff,” said the fox. “Seems pretty straight forward to me.”

“It is,” I said. “But the answer would be pure dread for most people. It would mean looking at what they’re doing and changing it.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people complain about their jobs and say day-after-day how much they’d like to be doing something else. They already have the answer to the question they should be asking; they’re living it every day.

But they’re not asking the question.They’re not speaking directly into themselves and asking, “Am I happy with what I’m doing?” I think the answer, then, would cause regret, panic…tears. So they go on living the wrong answer. I think, if they could honestly answer another question, they might be little more honest with the first.

“What’s that, Biff?” said the fox. “Go ahead and answer. I’m brave.”

“Am I going to die someday?” I said. “I think most people come to grips with this one too late to look back on fulfilling lives.”

“Is that what you’ve done, Biff?” said the fox.

I thought about this for a couple of years and said, “I honestly don’t know, fox.”

“Any hope for you, Biff?” said the fox.

“Not dead, yet, fox,” I said. “Not dead yet.”

(To be continued. Into something different.)

“So, Biff,” said the fox. “What’s this got to do with the search for peace?”

“Everything, fox,” I said. “We need to be asking a lot of meaningful questions and be ready for terribly beautiful answers before peace is ever going to be something we own.”

“You’re not going to die anytime soon, are you, Biff?” said the fox.

“If you’d stop grinning, I’m sure that would add many years.”

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