Can I ask a stupid question?

 

There is no such thing as a stupid question. When you ask a question, you form a collaborative learning relationship with me. Every question you have is the perfect expression of your need in this moment. When you ask me a question you let me know how I can best help you.

If I were to judge you for asking a question, I would be misusing our learning relationship to exploit you narcissistically. I would be putting you down to put myself up over you. And that would be a crime to you.

Your job is to ask questions. My job as a teacher is to answer them or help you find the answers or to help you think about the questions or help you figure out what a better question might be or help you reflect on the assumptions that might be leading to an impulse masquerading as a question, and more. In other words, every question lets me know what you know and don’t know, where you need my help.

Sometimes the simplest questions are good to hear again because they help us look at the fundamentals. And they help me and the more experienced people reading this rethink our assumptions. After all, if we get anxious hearing your questions, you give us the chance to notice what assumptions are being threatened within us. Then we can take care to notice and reflect upon those assumptions. In that sense, every time you ask a question you teach us.

In fact, rather than just supply the answer, we teachers need to step back a moment and think: could we keep this question open a little longer? What other insights might we have together if we leave this question open without filling it in with simple and impulsive answers?

Everywhere I go students ask questions that make me think, make me question my assumptions, that reveal new questions for me to consider. That’s why I teach. So I can learn. A student in Iran asked, “What is the relationship between ISTDP and Islam?” Isn’t that a fantastic question? I answered that ISTDP is a therapy where the patient is transformed by becoming at one with the emotional truth in this moment. The word Islam means submission, meaning submission to the Truth. In that sense we share in common this devotion to the truth and the belief we can become transformed through union with the truth.

A student in India asked me about the relationship between ISTDP and the commentaries on the Vedas by Patanjali within the advaita tradition. Isn’t that fantastic? I am working on the answer to that question which you will be reading about in the weeks and months ahead.

See! There is no such thing as a stupid question. Your question is an invitation to dialogue, to the loving connection of teaching and learning.

Oh, and one more thing. If you ask a question that I answered before, it still is not a stupid question! You are just letting me know that I have not succeeded yet in my task. You need more help and I need to figure out what help you need. What aspect of the question is puzzling you? What aspect of this issue have I omitted or forgotten to teach? What strength do I need to help you develop? Even a repeated question helps me see where I need to strengthen my teaching. So thank you for your questions. It’s how our dialogue begins and is maintained. For questions reveal our openness to a world of people, life, and knowledge that is always larger than us, our theories, and our answers. Our questions reveal our openness to the other person and the unknown which is the precondition for learning.


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