We all start out as super curious beings—no one asks more questions than my 3-year-old Zaynab. Her near endless barrage of questions help spur and accelerate learning.
It is estimated between ages 2 and 5, children ask about 40,000 questions. But then, as we grow older, we gradually ask fewer and fewer of them. Perhaps our parents lose patience with us, our teachers demand answers not questions, and our bosses just want us to be silent and do our work.Before we know it, the habit of asking questions is completely wrung out of us and we actually become afraid of questions. We keep burying them deep inside our heart.
Tony Robbins has said that the quality of your life is determined by the quality of the questions you ask. But what if questions make us ache? We’ve become a society addicted to instant gratification and superficial experience. In the daily humdrum of life, we don’t have the time to stop and probe questions that give dimension and hope and meaning to our lives. What’s most perplexing is this overwhelming feeling of uneasiness in the quiet presence of our own thoughts. To renew the search for a deeper form of knowing, we thus have an ever-increasing need for someone to remind us of the important questions that call us.
In a fascinating TED talk on “The psychology of your future self,” Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert posed such a question:
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our lives is change. If the person you will be in 30 years—the person for whom you plan your life now by working toward career goals and putting money aside in retirements plans—is invariably different from the person you are today, what makes that future person “you”? We set goals for the people we are when we set them rather than the people we become when we reach them.”
According to Gilbert, this is not only wrong but a source of much of our unhappiness. We tend to act like we know all the answers. That who we are at the present moment is the final destination of our becoming. But this particular time is only a point along our personal journey. So we must learn to be comfortable with questions—to let them guide us and help move us forward. Answers often freeze us in place.
In a 1903 letter to his protégé, the 19-year-old cadet and budding poet Franz Xaver Kappus, our beloved Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
This. This is how you find your way.