Who. What. When. Where. Why. How. These are the building blocks of knowledge. If I were to have cultivated a catch phrase, a motto, a battle cry, it would surely be “question everything.”
The majority of the time, questions are asked as the result of doubt; of an existing unknown, or the decent-enough probability of one. What time are we meeting for dinner? Does he love me as much as I love him? Is bigfoot real? Other times questions are a means for one to assess the knowledge of another or prove their own. What is two plus two? Who was the thirty-eighth president? Why did the chicken cross the road? In any case, knowledge is being shared or verified under the admittance of the possibility that the one or more of the involved does not know. The power of questions, for many, seems to stop there.
While the eradication of the unknown (of doubt) is primary function of the question, the relationship between doubt of question often warps the latter into a negative space; a space linked to confusion, uncertainty, and distrust. This stigma unfortunately tends to keep us from utilizing the question’s power when it comes to those things that are known; the things that we are certain of.
Science is the human invention that makes the greatest use of questioning knowns…mostly because science accepts that fact that most things can never be 100% known. Does the Sun really revolve around the Earth? Do heavier objects really fall faster than lighter ones? Is the Earth really 6,000 years old? The constant challenging of and building upon perceived fact is at the foundation of science. Without it we’d still think that angry gods made lightning and that masturbation leads to insanity. While the benefits of this manner of thinking are countless we tend to shrink away from it when the matters become more feeling- and emotion-based.
Let’s take two of the most powerful feelings we’ve got: love and faith.
Love is the peak of positive human emotion, forger of the strongest relationships between one’s self and the person, thing, or idea in which they are in love with. Faith is level of emotional certainty so complete that it perseveres without the requirement of tangible logical proof. Both are draped in commitment and, as such, “questions as doubt” are in direct opposition to both. It’s difficult to separate questioning love from doubting the strength of the relationship just as questioning faith is synonymous with doubting one’s core beliefs, even seen as a sin in certain religious contexts. In fact, the opposite is true. As in science, it is understanding and verification that often should spark questioning, not lack of belief.
Take Jack and Molly. They’re recently married, have an unassuming house in the suburbs, a dog. They share their innermost thoughts over coffee in the morning and marathon Netflix series, cuddled together on the couch every night. They are in love. One morning, Jack looks over at Molly and asks, “Why are we together?”. She answers, matter of factly, because we make each other happy, we get one another, and we want what’s best for the other from the bottom of our being.” That dialogue strengthens a bond. It validates a feeling. Granted, another answer could have gone like, “I…I honestly don’t know anymore.” That dialogue reveals a weakness in the bond and from there it can be dealt with. Regardless of the response, the challenge of the question fosters growth and both parties will be better off because of it.
Here’s a list of reasons people steer clear of questioning things they’re certain of:
It’s morally wrong. Especially where faith is involved many religions teach that questioning its doctrine is itself a sin.
It looks like an awful lot like doubt. As mentioned above with love, questioning something can seem an awful lot like you don’t believe in it even if that’s not the case. Questioning a relationship, a decision, an idea can be hurtful to those who are intimately involved in either.
It makes you look dumb. Putting any question out there (unless testing someone) is admitting that you do not have an answer. Some of us would opt for continued ignorance to avoid being viewed as ignorant in the moment.
The truth is scary. So often questions aren’t asked because the answer (the truth) is scarier. Living a lie becomes the more comfortable (or less mysterious) choice and therefore we cling to it because the alternative might be worse in the short or long run.
The truth is the truth. The truth is what’s real. It is the the only way to reach genuineness, completeness of self, goals, and relationships. And the only way to do this is to “Who, what, when, where, and why” everything, not with the intention to debunk it (that’s how you become paranoid) but instead to simply understand.
Growth begins with a question.