Demand more from one another by asking questions in all facets of lifeBy Mark Hammontree | 01/11/2015 11:34pm
Why do so many people begin their essays and papers by asking a question? It is a tired, overused construction and relatively uncreative as far as opening sentences go. It could be the memory of a ninth grade English class and the list of the different “hooks” a writer can use to engage an audience. Maybe it’s an easy way for a writer to organize his thoughts when he’s unsure of where to start. Or perhaps it’s the most sure way of connecting the reader to the text.
A question invites the reader to take part in the process of investigation and inquiry from the onset, not needing to worry about any eventual discovery.
A paper depends on questions, and many questions at that. When? How? Who? Where? Why? A writer hardly has anything to write about if he hasn’t asked these questions repeatedly. And the paper is always less about explaining the answers than it is about taking the reader on that journey of asking and searching.
Writing, as a process of asking questions and looking for answers, reflects our life and our everyday pursuits. We’ve all heard the idiomatic “life is a journey” or some close cousin of the phrase, but how often do we live our lives more worried about outcomes, destinations and results than taking full stock of adversity, movement and uncertainty?
The seeds of our answer-anxiety are planted in us from the beginning. Despite the work of certain great teachers, the reality of the American education system is a series of quantitative measurements predicated on knowing the right answers. We give children backwards multiple choice tests, where the teacher asks the questions and the student has the responsibility of being right or wrong. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Many might recall how frustrating it was in algebra class when the teacher demanded work be shown to receive full credit. It didn’t matter if you could get the right answer; the teacher wanted to see if you could show how you got it. Solving an equation was more about the process than it was about an answer.
Scientists don’t pack up their labs and retire when they’ve published their first paper. Science is about questions leading to more questions, and when you feel satisfied with your answer to one, you still ask what you may have missed or what you got wrong.
Our lives, like essays, like math skills, like scientific inquiries, are made stronger and deeper by the questions we ask. Questions are how we demand more from ourselves and from others. They are how we grow and how we change.
And rarely will we find the answers to the questions we ask. Indeed, the best response we can hope for is more questions. So don’t be afraid to show uncertainty, insecurity or ignorance. Don’t be afraid to ask your English professor why studying Shakespeare is important or to ask loved ones for help with depression or to ask someone how they want to be identified. Ask questions and seek responses. Then ask more questions.
Mark Hammontree is a junior majoring in secondary education. His column runs weekly.