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Answering a question? With a question?

My mother, in all her wisdom, always told me it was rude to answer a question with a question. For the most part, she was right. (Though maybe she was just fed up with me asking ‘why?’ all the time!) What she was referring to really was answering a question such as “Where’s your bicycle?” with something as glib and smart-alecky as “Why do you want to know?” or something like that.

So I pretty much followed that pattern for most of my life, always trying to offer honest answers readily where possible. Until recently that is. Because I discovered a secret hidden power in the inquisitive retort.

Having now spent many years in the ‘free world’ business – trying to promote the unthinkable to most people – I have fielded thousands of questions about the ideology of an Open Economy or Free World from many people. This is great news of course, because it shows that people are at least interested enough to try critique the philosophy, or to learn more. These questions often repeat, like ‘who will build the roads?‘, or ‘what about lazy people?‘, or ‘what will be the incentive?‘ etc etc.

Recently (and frankly getting a little bored with repeating myself), I decided to change tack and try something else. I started answering these questions with other questions like: “Well, who do YOU think will build the roads?“, or “What do YOU think the incentive will be?” Suddenly I saw amazing things happen. People – even hardened critics – though taken a little aback, actually began to think about it for the first time themselves. Rather than me posing as some ‘all-knowing oracle’ passing down wisdom to his idiot pupils, in just a few words, I forced them to answer their own question – and it worked!

I think it works because it’s immediately breaking the cycle of ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ and giving them the responsibility of thinking it through themselves. And, for the critics, you are immediately regarding them as an equal, dispelling any potential animosity – and offering yourself as keen to listen to their ideas.

Having seen this in action, I would urge anyone to try it and see for themselves. It now occurs to me that we are so culturally ingrained to be either teacher or student, that we almost deny ourselves the responsibility of seeking our own knowledge from within. This particular experiment not only works favourably, but also helps us to start breaking that role-playing cycle and become our own masters.

Published in Blog


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