Lately I’ve been talking with friends and family about their personal goals.
A common thing I hear from them is they don’t know which path to take, and because they don’t know this, they don’t act… at all.
It’s like they think the act of “not knowing” is equal to theca of “thinking,” and since thinking feels like work, they feel they are making progress.
Keep in mind this is just my mostly uninformed observation.
I just read a perfectly applicable quote on this matter. It was written by Gary Halbert, the greatest copywriter of all time. It’s this:
More Answers Will Be Found
Through Movement Than
Will Ever Be Found Through Meditation
Back to friends and family…
Usually, in situations like this, I avoid giving direct answers the best I can.
I know that if I want to really help them, I should be asking them questions so they can give me answers. After all, giving me answers is the only way they can give themselves answers. Of course, this is a hard thing to do because it is our natural inclination to offer up our opinions.
But that is the power of the socratic method—of asking questions.
It’s hard for you to ask questions of yourself. And it’s even harder to get truly objective answers that aren’t influenced by your currently held beliefs.
Human beings are built to cling to personally held beliefs because beliefs kept our ancestors safe—beliefs about poisonous berries, plants and dangerous snakes, spiders and insects would have increased the likelihood our ancestors would survive in the harsh wild, and thus pass on their genes to the next generation.
This is why it’s so damn hard for a human being to change what she thinks. Of course, since we now live in a different world, one that is constantly changing, we need the ability to change our minds.
The genetic belief system that our ancestors gifted us is outdated and we all must do our best to override it.
In fact, if you look at most of the problems with the world, you’ll see that so much stems from human beings trying to force their dogmas onto others and/or being unwilling to change their own to a different point of view.
But let’s save that for another day. Instead, let’s look at an example from everyday life.
Let’s say a friend is comparing two jobs and he asks you which job he should take. He’ll probably list the pros and cons, and you’ll tell him which job you think he should choose.
Look closely and you’ll see that you are choosing which job you would choose. Since you and your friend are different, you aren’t going to value things the same way. And this is why your choice has no guarantee of being the best choice from him.
Let’s say you know him well, and you think you can do your best to objectively choose for him. In this case, there’s still a problem. If you help him make a decision, he’s not going to feel, deep down, that it was his decision. There’s going to be a disconnect. This minute connection to “your choice” is likely to cause discontent and confusion, especially later when he deals with the existential questions of his choice that always come with one’s bigger decisions in life.
These are a couple of the reasons why giving advice, answers or opinions are seldom useful.
If this sounds absurd to you, then I’d ask you this question, “Why do most people so often fail to follow good advice?” and “Why do most people do things so completely stupid that it’s hard to comprehend what the person was even thinking?”
It’s simple, actually: People have to figure shit out for themselves.
And this is fundamentally why questions are so powerful.
Have you ever heard, “Objection; leading the witness”? This is how you want to give advice/persuade.
Use questions to lead them into thinking of it themselves.
This is so powerful a form of persuasion that it’s not allowed in a court of law.
If you combine this with the fact that people need to figure shit out for themselves, you see how it forms the foundation of persuasion.
I just hope you will use it morally…
Questions of The Self
It’s great to use questions with other people, but it’s absolutely necessary to use questions with yourself. And this is the really, really hard one.
It’s natural to hear “questions” and think “answers.” But that’s not the point. The point isn’t to answer questions; it’s to ask more questions. Let me explain.
You want to build the questioning mind, one in which your natural inclination is to ask questions of everything, especially yourself. Then, as you start questioning more in life, you find yourself arriving at more questions. If you are doing right, questions should lead you to more questions the majority of the time. When this starts happening, you know you are on the right path.
Of course, do this enough and your questions will inch you closer to answers. Even then, as you get closer to answers, you’ll realize that they are soon made flimsy by more questions. And on and on this goes.
It’s kind of a mind trip, I know. It might even seem a bit pointless. After all, aren’t answers the point? If they aren’t, then what’s the point of asking questions at all?
Good question. (Pun most definitely intended.. I think?) This is where it gets a bit hard to explain, and it’ll probably end up sounding like an esoteric paradox, but I’ll do my best still.
While it’s true that questions lead you to more questions, throughout this process, you will start building a collection of insights and beliefs about things.
You could call these “answers,” and they kinda are, but not really. Again, hard to explain.
You see, since questions beget more questions—if you do it right—you’ll start realizing how few answers there really are in life. You’ll realize that everything is a “best guess,” and that there really isn’t anything that is 100% right. This is a hard pill to shallow for most people because of the human need to belief and want answers.
The fact is, there are not facts. We think we know things but we really don’t, and the closest we can get is a collection of “most likely” and “probably.”
Instead of going dow that rabbit hole, I’ll provide a quote by one of my favorite scientists,Richard Feynman:
“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.”
Back to questions. Here’s an example that just popped in my head:
Imagine the grandmaster teaching the grasshopper. The grandmaster never directly answers the pupil’s question, but instead replies with another question. This leads the pupil to answering the question himself. Even then, the master doesn’t tell his pupil if the answer is actually the answer. That’s when you’ll see the look of confusion on the pupil’s face, soon replaced by the look of thought, soon replaced by a slow grasping of the answer. And while the master did not confirm or disconfirm the answer, the pupil is left with a place he can keep thinking about it. Years of this and the pupil becomes a grandmaster whom does the same with his pupil; answering questions with questions, and making his pupil work for knowledge and wisdom.
That’s what I mean by all this. It’s the understanding (realization) that there is no such thing as an “answer,” just more questions.
For some of you, this might be hard to comprehend. It might seem pointless or like too much work. My advice to you would be this: just do it.
You’ll see how questions are your best tool for getting answers and making decisions in life. You’ll also develop an open mind and not fall into dogmatic belief systems that most people do that get so much of them and this world into trouble.
Ultimately, questions will lead you on the path to wisdom and contentment. You’ll learn more about yourself, the world and people, all of which will help you live a happier and more effective life.
It’s all starts with the question.