“Questions Unite, Answers Divide.” This was a line that really stuck out to us as we listened to a podcast called The Art of Accomplishment. The hosts were talking about building community–building real community, the kind that mourns with each other and rejoices with each other and accepts responsibility for the lives of each other. They were talking about the kind of community that says, “If you’re failing, then it’s because I’ve failed you.” And in that kind of community, that truth has proven itself.
Let’s ponder it for a moment, shall we?
Sometimes, yes, we don’t even agree on what the questions should be, on which ones are important to talk about. There were certainly times in my college conversations where people would interject, “Yes, but how can we even know if we’re real?” into every single subject, and we’d just have to say, “You’re asking the wrong question.” But most of the time, in life (if not in philosophy), we can at least agree on what questions are important.
How do we help those who feel outcast in their own skin?
How do we support single women who just found out they’re pregnant and are terrified?
What can we do about the rampant drug abuse in our streets?
Why is violence so out of control?
How can we shape our kids into responsible adults?
How can we show people we love them?
How can I be successful?
These are just a few examples, of course, but they are examples that are at the heart of most of the contention in political arenas, family arguments, and even workplace rivalries. And it doesn’t take much imagination to realize why the answers to them divide, right? Because one side might say, “We need to make sure those people can just CHOOSE their gender,” while the other says, “They just need to get COMFORTABLE with who God made them to be.”
The answers divide us. But they don’t have to…because we don’t have to try to offer solutions. We can just sit in the question. What would that look like?
Something like this. “Wow, you’re right. There are so many people who hate who they were born and want to be someone new.” Then instead of jumping to “answers,” we could instead say, “Why do you think that is?” We could talk about the root of it, the heart of it. We could have opinions, sure, but we could approach the conversation impartially. Because you know what? Rarely is there one answer. And rarely does our opinion actually do anything but hurt people. Rarely do we help by offering a “fix,” an “answer.” All we ever do is push people away.
“There’s no such thing as winning an argument,” Dale Carnegie observed (I’m probably paraphrasing) in How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Once you’ve started arguing, you’ve already lost.”
But what we can do is have conversations. We can just ask questions–not questions designed to push an agenda, but questions rooted in curiosity. In wonder. Instead of wanting to fix everything, we can just want to learn about it. We can get to the place where we can love–the person we’re talking to, and the people or situation we’re talking about.
We don’t have to avoid or shy away from subjects that can turn contentious. We can embrace them when we go in without an agenda. We can simply enjoy learning other views and perspectives. We can appreciate seeing things in ways we never have before. We can strive to understand why people come to different conclusions and (gasp) even entertain the notion that our own opinions could be wrong, in part or completely.
We’re entering a season of visits and travel, of activities and festivities. We’re entering a season where we’ll be spending a lot of hours around dining room tables or living rooms or office parties or church fellowship halls with people we love…but may not always know how to talk to about anything but surface things, for fear tension will intrude.
Let’s not avoid the hard subjects–but let’s not approach them as things that have definitive answers, either. Let’s leave our own opinions and agendas at the door, and let’s simply connect. Let’s let the questions unite us–because we all know they’re important–and refuse to let the answers divide. Let’s enter those conversations like The Art of Accomplishment encourages us to do, with what they call the VIEW mindset: with Vulnerability; with Impartiality; with Empathy; and with Wonder. If we can do that, then we’re going to leave those conversations knowing we’ve grown closer to the other people…and more, that we’ve grown. We, ourselves. We’ve grown, because we’ve ventured outside the walls of our own biases.
And that’s a freeing, festive place to be.