Study the questions

Study the questions

Being generous people, we have a tendency to provide answers. At its simplest level it is what is required. Answers are the basis of all knowledge. As little children we ask questions expecting answers that will make us better equipped to grow up and handle an adult life. As students we are expected to be able to provide answers to questions of knowledge when we do exams. The nonsense of so doing in 2020 is beyond comprehension. We have Google, the epitome of the answering machine. It responds to almost any question, not always correctly. Incredible to think that knowledge has only become universally available in the last half century.

Once we got it we realised that knowing the answers is not the answer. Knowledge begs questions. The more knowledge we have the more questions we have – the most formidable of which is “why?” Being able to examine the answers puts us in a powerful position to ask more questions. That is why we are now learning at a rate unimaginable only a few years ago. To comprehend the pace of learning is to realise the new world we are entering. Not because of Covid-19, although that has precipitated some faster learning.

Real learning is enabling people of very different intellectual levels to perform as never before. Top intellects have to think on a higher plane if they are to distinguish themselves and command the respect and power to influence for good. I notice the best intellects stretching way beyond what my father, himself an intelligent man, could think. Fundamentals remain, but need interpreting in a modern context to be viable. That is what the religions could have done to their benefit and ours. Alas, they missed the opportunity presented by the virus to turn Church into Home. Even as I write this the monks are leaving Downside. There’s a whole sad story there, too.

Our need has therefore changed from studying the answers to studying the questions. There has always been a need for this. I won my first accolade in business by inverting a question that was then economically unanswerable and presenting instead a question that we could afford to answer.  The need to ask the right questions is greater today than ever before because the planet is threatened with climate destruction both from pollution caused by each of us and by the rapidly expanding number of individuals it has to support.

An athlete who runs too fast damages the structure of his body – sometimes beyond repair. An intellect that progresses too quickly can have the same effect on the mind. We follow our trail as far and as fast as we can. But beware, the intellect is as seducable as any hedonist. Once in a tunnel of exploration it may never again ask the question “Is this the right tunnel?” All knowledge is valuable but instinctively we know that some knowledge is dangerous, too. We may think that we have not discovered that level of knowledge yet.

I have tried asking friends ‘what is the purpose of life?’ It has produced some interesting answers. From ‘to make money’ to ‘to enjoy yourself’ they have overwhelmingly reflected methods of conducting life rather than the purpose of life itself. When ‘to be so good that I will reach heaven’ was a widely accepted answer, it defined the process of life clearly. If that purpose is no longer there, what is to take its place? After all, if there is no reward for good behaviour at the end of life what incentive do we have to be decent?

Try answering this question yourself please. Examine your answers and see if they avoid the trap of method rather than objective. It is easy to say how we think life should be conducted. Our ways will vary according to our current and inherent state of mind. If we are fearful of the pressures that are being exerted on the world we will be stricter about how others conduct life than about how we do. If we are comfortable that we can ride the storms we face, we will determine a code of conduct for ourselves that suits our situation. Neither will answer the question “What is the purpose of life?” To do that we have to think more deeply. For we are entering the deep end of the pool.

If you’d like to exchange your answers to the question with me I will respond to you.

Chatham House Rule – nothing you tell me will be attributed to you.

Do I have the answer? Well, maybe not THE answer, I don’t know. But I do have AN answer.

And if you accepted it, it would lead to more questions.

That’s why I say ‘Study the questions’.