Teach the youth: Ask a Better Question.

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Years and Years ago, I got the Tony Robbins series Personal Power. And one of the things that has always stuck with me during the interveining 15 or so years is the idea that the questiosn we ask really determine the quality of our life. that might seem liek apretty big leap.. but stick with me.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.- Matthew 7:7

“Look, is that Elvis?!” 

The first thing questions do, is they control what you focus on.

If you ask yourself a question, you are implictly paying attention to the things in the question, and not paying attention to other elements.

In sales school they will teach you a bunch of things that are designed to get people to focus on the wrong thing. For example, don’t ask “do you want to sign the contract?” ask instead “Do you want to use my pen or yours?” or “Who is the first person you will show when you get home?”

Generically these built in phrases and assumptions are called Presuppositions. And they can affect the way you think about the world and even the things that you percieve, blinding you to certain things and making others seem far larger and more important than they are in real life.

“What is the your favorite color?”

The second thing is that questions force you to make up an answer, any answer.

Have you ever watched Jeopardy? Don’t you shout out answers even if you have no idea if they are right? Your brain hates to have an unanswered question sit around. And our natural tendancy is to make up an answer, ANY ANSWER to resolve the question.

Try these just reading these questions and NOT ANSWER them in your head..and see what you can do.

  • Who Built the Pyramids?
  • What is the greatest commandment?
  • How do you pronounce the the Capital of Kentucky, looey- vil or lewis-vil?
  • Paper or Plastic?

If you are like most people, you have an involuntary “answer reflex” that kicks in when you see a question. And also if you are like most people it will kick in wether or not you have any idea what the true answer is.

So why is this important to teenagers?

Everyday as a teenager you are confronted with people saying mean things, people and media forces trying to convince them they are out of place and need to change. If you are not careful you can find yourself asking very dangerous questions to yourself.

  • Why am I such a loser?
  • Why Doesn’t anyone like me?
  • Why am I so fat?
  • Who would miss me when I am dead?

all of these questions show the two features of questions that I mentioned above.

They all assume something damaging and negative built into the question. I am a loser. No one likes me. I am Fat. I am dead.

And they also open themselves to answers that have to be made up. Why am I such a loser? if you bite off on the presupposition that you are a loser, then your brain will supply almost any answer. too tall, too fat, too skinny, too fat, too smart, too dumb. doesn’t matter if you are really any of those since this answer WONT BE based on FACTS. And since it isnt based on facts, you will also find that it is very hard to convince people otherwise with facts.

Practical Training

So the straight forward first thing todo is simply make people aware of how they do this. Often that will be enough to get them to start intercepting these questions and thinking about them critically.

Have them practice creating better questions. Often this will have to do with a “What have I not noticed” angle, since that will get them to shift their point fo view and use questions to expand their focus rather than questions narrowing and blinding them to parts of the current reality.

examples:

  • What can I learn from this that I could not learn any other way?
  • What is funny abou tthis that I had not noticed?
  • How does this look to someone (older/younger) than me?
  • What is something I really respect about the other person?

And answer these in a serious not flippant way will go a long way to improving your outlook on the world.

And finally, if you are going to make up answers to a question, why not make up aswers that are powerful and empowering instead of limiting? Look at the following pairs, they could both answer a poorly framed question. 

  • Because I am just too awesome and people may not be prepared, instead of Because I am shy
  • Because I love to take risks and have more fun than normal instead of I make mistakes and dont think

While both the first and second of the sets are probably wrong and incorrect and made up. One of the made up answers in each pair leaves you in a much better place to take positive action the next time you are in the situation.

Parting thought: the most dangerous questions

I want to close this post with one final thought.

The most dangerous questions always seem to start with why. The reason is simple they can affect how you think the world works.

You can construct a belief system that has little relation to how the real world works by asking questions that seek a cause and effect relationship where one doesnt exist.

Because we have seen your brain will try to answer all questions, and will make up an answer if it doesn’t know one, without really caring how true it is. If you start asking “why” questions like some of the ones above, you can end up with a really messed up view of how the world works, and what “causes” things to happen.

So of all the questions with all the presuppositions we can ask ourselves, we have to be most careful with ones that try to create the underlying rules for the world by asking why.

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