The Answer that we get is dependent upon the question that we ask.
The following quote is from the book Art & Fear pg 104: “In Art as well as in Science, the answers that you get depend on the questions that you ask.” Art & Fear is one of those books which should be required reading for every artist alive. It doesn’t matter what kind of art you do, if you are at all creative you very much need to read this book. It deals with the subject of overcoming your fears in order to be a well-adjusted artist. However, that is not what this essay is about. Instead, I would like to focus on this quote and the depth to which this quote spoke to me as well as to Rhoda when I shared it with her. “In Art as well as in Science, the answers that you get depend on the questions that you ask.”
The answer that we get is dependent upon the question that we ask…This sounds so obvious at first, so simple. But think about it. If you do not ask the question in the first place, how can you expect to get an answer? So first, you must ask the question. Go ahead, ask the question. Even if you are afraid to do so. But then you must consider the nature of the question which you have asked. The answer you get will be completely dependent upon the manner in which the question is asked. There are many sub-questions which frame the nature of your question and each of these will influence the answer which you get. Everything must be taken in context. Nothing happens in a vacuum, including the answer to your question.
Before I go too much further, I would like to mention the book “Power vs Force” by David Hawkins M.D., Ph.D. Hawkins was a psychiatrist and kinesiologist who found if you ask the proper question your body will always give you a yes or no answer. The entire book Power vs Force and the gestalt of Hawkins’ research verifies what Art vs. Fear is saying.
Let us take a quick look at each of the variables that shapes the answer to your question:
- What is the focus of your question? Think about what you want your question to accomplish. What are you asking? Unless you are engaged in purely theoretical philosophy no question is asked without having a purpose. Even then it can be argued that the questions asked for purely theoretical purposes are some of the biggest questions which we must ask. What is your focus and what do you wish to accomplish with the answer to your question?
- Is the nature of your question positive or negative? The outcome of the answer will be completely influenced by if the question is phrased in a positive manner vs a negative manner. Let us say something challenging is happening in your life and you want to know the meaning of the challenge. You can ask the question “Why is this happening to me?” This question might even have a negative emotional element to it so that it is asked in a very angry manner. The way you ask this question and the negative emotions which are attached to the question will definitely influence the answer which you get. However, if you ask the question in a positive manner “What good can I achieve from the current situation” you have now changed the nature of the question from being negative to positive and will find you will get a very different answer.
- Are you open to an answer that you might not expect? Every question has an answer. However, sometimes the answer is not what you expect it to be. To quote my very wise philosophy professor from Seminary, Fr. Sebastian Semay, “God is not a sugar daddy in the sky.” Just because you ask the question, that does not mean you will get the answer which you expect to get. Sometimes the answer you get will be the exact opposite of what you expect it to be. If you are open to the answer you get, even if it is not what you expected, then there is a much greater likelihood that you will receive the answer. However, if you are only open to receiving the answer which you expect to get you might completely miss the answer even if it is right before you. In this case it will not be a question unanswered but rather an answer that was not received. There are even those who refuse to ask the question in the first place because they fear the answer which they will get. It might take them years of growth before they are willing and able to receive their answer.
- Are you willing to work to achieve the answer that you receive/desire or do you simply expect it to “come” to you? This variable dovetails off the last one which asked “are you open to an answer that you might not expect.” Often the answer which you desire to receive requires much work and personal growth before you are able to receive the answer. This was clearly the case in my own life. For years I struggled with various things which I did not know were all due to my being autistic. If I had been presented with the information that I am autistic in 2003, before I began the long and sometimes strenuous work which led to my receiving that answer in 2014, I would have had a very different reaction to it than I did in 2014. However, I was tired of the struggles and I was willing to put in the work needed to learn to deal with the various elements of my personality. By the time I received that answer in 2014 I was willing, ready and able to receive that answer and use it for my own good, as a tool for my own growth.
- Are you open to the fact that the answer may require you to ask further questions? Again, dovetailing off the previous question, are you open to the fact that the answer which you receive to your question might require you to ask further questions? Going back to the answer of autism which I received in 2014 to the question of the cause of my struggles in life, that answer required me to ask a bunch of other questions. By the time that I received that answer, I was ready to ask the further questions which it brought with it. Are you willing to ask the further questions which the answer to your question might bring with it as well?
- Have you asked the question in a clear and unambiguous manner? This question might sound obvious, but it is a serious consideration. To get a clear and understandable answer to a question, you must ask a clear and unambiguous question in the first place. Be precise in your question and clear about its intent and outcome. Do not ask the question in a manner which could bring about ambiguous responses.
- Are you paying attention to what the answer is saying? The fact of the matter is that you might have already received the answer to your question, but you may not have been paying attention to the answer and what it is saying. Or worse yet, maybe you are choosing to not pay attention to the answer because you do not like what it is saying.
- Do you understand the question? Is the question that you are asking clear to you? This is similar to the point earlier about is the question asked in an unambiguous manner. If you do not understand the question, you will not be able to receive or understand the answer. Take the time to re-phrase your question in a manner which is clear and understandable to you.
- Do you understand the answer? Similar to the point of “do you understand the question” is the point of do you understand the answer? If you do not understand the answer to your question, it is time to investigate it. Do some research into what the answer is and what it might mean, reach out to others who might be knowledgeable and able to help you decipher the answer. Don’t just sit there and say you have not received the answer simply because you do not understand what it is saying.
- Is your question too broadly focused? If your question is too broadly focused it might be difficult or impossible to receive a clear answer to your question. You might need to more narrowly define the question. For example, the question “Will it snow” is a rather broad question. A more narrowly focused question would be “Will it snow tomorrow in Pittsburgh, Pa?”
- Is your question too narrowly focused? The opposite of asking too broad of a question is to ask too narrow of a question. If you ask too narrow of a question, it might be impossible to get a clear-cut answer until you have asked a number of more broad questions which would then lead up to asking the narrowly focused question.
- Does your question completely miss the overall point, the big picture? There is a chance that in asking your question it might totally miss the overall point, the big picture. Due to my narrow focus and often focusing on the wrong area, I have been guilty of this many times in my life. I will be focused on one little detail and missing the whole point of the conversation and question at hand. If you are missing the point, it might be time to take a step back and re-evaluate the question at hand.
- Do you know what the question you are asking is in the first place? This might seem rather basic, but unless you know the question you are asking, you will never get the answer. If you are not sure of the question, sit down and refine it before you start looking for the answer.
- Is there a clear-cut answer to your question? This dovetails off earlier considerations, but is there a clear-cut answer to your question? If there is not, then perhaps you need to refine the question in such a manner that the answer becomes clear and a little less ambiguous.
- Does your question need to be asked in the first place? This consideration is a bit subjective. Does the question you are looking for an answer to need to be asked in the first place? Some questions are of the greatest importance and are worthy of the time spent seeking answers. Others not so much. You are the only one who can answer on the question of the importance of your question.
- Are you ignoring the answer to your question? One final consideration: has the answer to your question been with you all along? Have you just not noticed that it was there or are you flat out ignoring it?