We live in a world where answers are given more value than the questions being asked. We want results, not idle inquiry. We reward the definite and the concrete while dismissing the unanswerable and the curious. Today, I argue, the best of us really rests in the questions we ask and not in the answers we provide. When Albert Einstein was a teenager, he asked this question: “What would happen if I could imprison a ray of light?” Nobody had the answer to his question. For the rest of his life, he honored his own childhood wondering and brought the rest of us into his light.
The lesson in Einstein is this query: How did we come to value answers instead of cherishing the immediately unanswerable?
Answers can change while questions remain the same. There is a comfort in the timeless inquiry that few are able to abide because the idea lives in the ether of the indefinite.
“What is the meaning of life?” can — as it should and must — provide a multiplicity of answers from a single person across a lifetime.
Sometimes the best questions are left unanswered because they can lead to other, more interesting, questions that might never get asked if the base question is definitively answered.
Governments, religions and private power dyads rely on command and control by providing the inalienable answer to any question with laws, dogma and behavior manipulation. To leave a question unanswered is to not deserve the faith of others.
We don’t value the rhetorical question at all, and we certainly always feel pressed to answer any inquiry because we have been trained that saying, “I don’t know” is received by the questioner as, “I am stupid.” Watching someone try to invent an answer that makes no sense is, for some reason, more credible than lifting your shoulders and raising your eyebrows and providing a curious grin.
Speed is also the essence of a perceived correct answer. We are praised for the quick reply while the careful, thoughtful, response is marked dull and ponderous.
How did we come to value the instant over prescience?
The genius of Google, I believe, is in its ability to provide more questions by giving us search returns that might — or might not — pretend to hold our answers. We start with a wondering and Google leads us into deeper thought:
I guess there are some questions that not even Google can begin to answer — and that’s a good thing.