Tag Archives: Questions

What Would You Do if You Could Learn Almost Anything You Wanted To?

kid-super-power

(Image/beatingcowdens.com)

Somewhere in the world, there exists a person who could objectively and legitimately be called The Smartest Person on Earth.

Maybe she’s a Nobel Laureate in the field of astrophysics.

Maybe he’s the global thought leader in the development of artificial intelligence.

I don’t know.

But what if I told you that—no matter your education level or particular area of expertise—you are capable of knowing and understanding almost everything that the Smartest People on Earth know and understand?

Why Does This Matter?

Good question.

  1. I’m being fast and loose with the word ‘smart.’
  2. I think ‘smart’ people are best-equipped to have good relationships and live good lives and make a positive impact on the world.
  3. I want you to know that you’re smart, and then use that smartness to improve your relationships because THAT and your personal health are the two most important influencers on how good or how shitty your life feels every day.

There are different kinds of smart. Is the high school dropout who can’t identify Italy on a world map, but who CAN masterfully build a performance car engine or race vehicle suspension, someone you’d consider to be dumb?

What about the genius music prodigy who can compose an original piece anytime you ask her to, but who knows squat about finance or history or pop culture or engineering or sports or computer software?

Is she smart for being a genius at one thing, or dumb for being an ignoramus about thousands of things?

We get sucked into a trap sometimes of associating advanced degrees and good vocabularies with intelligence. People ALWAYS think I’m smarter than I am because I can string words together, both writing and speaking.

And then they think some guy wearing a trucker hat and speaking with a southern American accent is some idiot hillbilly, even if that guy is a master mechanic, or a brilliant farmer, or whatever.

EVERYONE has something that they are masters of. Something they’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours doing. They’re experts, even if they don’t recognize it themselves, and even if it’s an activity not currently earning them a paycheck.

Everyone is smart. It’s just that many of us are biased to label certain types of intelligence or skill as ‘smart’ because we value those things more than all the other versions out there, so we accidentally treat everyone NOT living in that bubble like they’re assholes, which makes us assholes.

It’s a vicious cycle of assholery.

The Power of Asking a More Beautiful Question

Despite the truth that EVERYONE is their own version of smart whether we, or they themselves, recognize it, for the purposes of this exercise, let’s think of ‘smart’ as meaning “most knowledgeable.”

What is the difference between The Smartest Person on Earth—the person who knows the most out of everyone in the world—and someone willing to ask the right question?

If the Smartest Person on Earth knows and remembers more things than you, but you can find all of those same answers by asking Google, or an expert, or reading a book, or going to experience something for yourself—is there really a difference? If you’re coming to the same answers?

I mean, The Smartest Person on Earth will mop the floor with us on Jeopardy!, but do I REALLY care that they memorized some fact, or read some book that I can look up in 30 seconds on my phone, or have that same book on my doorstep in 48 hours?

Mental aptitude is a thing. Some people’s brains work faster and differently in ways various academics might label as ‘better.’ I accept that.

I just want to hammer home the idea that EVERYONE can know and understand ANYTHING they want with just one skill.

Just one little skill.

And that is: Asking good questions to the right people, and using effective tools to gather knowledge and information.

Someone committed to THAT is unstoppable.

At school.

At work.

In life—and that includes at home in our relationships.

If You Ask Your Relationship Partner Good Questions (and Receive Honest Answers), What CAN’T You Accomplish Together?

Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, and contributor to The New York Times and Psychology Today, might be the world’s leading authority on the art and science of asking questions.

Berger reached out to me last year to get my take on questions relationship partners could or should be asking for his new book releasing in late October called The Book of Beautiful Questions.

I have no idea whether my feedback actually made it into the book, but I secretly hope it did because there’s a better-than-average chance it’s the only New York Times Bestseller my name will ever be attached to.

But what really matters is the IDEA about asking questions. This insanely powerful idea that you have everything you need to stay connected to, or reconnect with your spouse or relationship partner.

There is mountains of research backed by decades of data science that can help you understand what does, and what does not positively affect relationships.

There are brilliant thinkers who have built amazing guides to help you better understand yourself and your spouse or partner.

And then there is the actual person sitting on the other side of the dinner table, sitting next to you on the couch, lying down next to you in bed.

What questions could you ask them in order to better understand what you could do to help strengthen your marriage/relationship?

“By asking questions, we learn, analyze, understand—and can move forward in the face of uncertainty. When confronted with almost any demanding situation, in work or life, the act of questioning can help guide us to smart decisions and a sensible course of action. But the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of a complex challenge, or that enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way,” Berger wrote in an article about his upcoming book.

Much like how the things that actually end our marriages seem too minor, too ‘silly,’ too insignificant to actually be the cause of our divorce or breakup, this idea about asking questions might seem too simple to be the key to overcoming many of your life’s biggest stressors and obstacles—at home, at work, financially, emotionally—whatever.

Ask the right question to the right person.

Ask the right question in your favorite search engine.

And then the right answers will emerge.

Beautiful questions yield beautiful answers.

And, just maybe, beautiful answers yield more beautiful lives.

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Is Your Spouse Hurting You On Purpose?

albert einstein the power of asking the right question

(Image/CoSchedule)

Pain sucks.

Some people enjoy the muscle burn after a hard workout because it feels like progress. Others like the achy remnants of vigorous bedroom activities, or headaches the morning after a fun party, as a reminder of the fun.

But we can mostly agree that pain in most forms and at most times is a predominantly negative experience. Hurt someone long enough or hard enough and they won’t even be the same person afterward. It’s a big deal.

My go-to defense when my wife was upset with me in our marriage was to say I didn’t do it on purpose (which was true). To me, it felt unfair for her to be mad about whatever the thing was. Or at least AS mad as she sometimes was.

Inflicting damage intentionally is a universally frowned-upon thing. When your actions result in harm to other people or their property, the penalties in the criminal justice system (presumably everywhere, but certainly in all developed nations) are most severe when the damage was intentional.

Accidents are sometimes punishable as well, but usually with softer penalties. They’re often labeled “negligent,” or “reckless.”

Whenever my wife was mad and I thought she was charging me with murder when my crime was actually driving too fast in a construction zone, I’d get defensive and pivot the conversation to her lack of justice instead of the thing about which she was upset.

My marriage fights mostly consisted of me attempting to invalidate my wife’s complaints under the basic premise that I considered them petty or unworthy. I treated her arguments as illogical. And because, in my mind, her arguments lacked logic and reason, I categorized them as WRONG.

I was right. She was wrong. And since I believed that, she was the real rabble-rouser in the marriage and nothing was ever my fault.

I was either accidentally (and I do mean accidentally) a master manipulator OR an intolerably oblivious moron, depending on how well a given observer understood relationship dynamics as we discuss them here. Since both my ex-wife and I are socially competent, we didn’t have many disagreements in front of others. There were some, but I don’t remember ever being pulled aside so someone could point out my (or my wife’s, if applicable) douchebaggery.

That’s probably because their relationship arguments looked exactly the same.

I was months into divorce before the truth found me:

  • This is what most marriages and relationships look like. Most couples have the same, predictable fights and outcomes.
  • Holy shit. I WAS hurting her worse than if she’d been smacked in the face. (We all get outraged when people physically strike others, but no one gets outraged by emotional neglect, which actually hurts much worse. Why?)
  • I never knew my actions were literally causing pain because I didn’t believe her when she told me. Did I think she was lying? No. I guess I simply thought she was wrong.
  • The intense pain from divorce was my first real taste of emotional pain. I’m not talking about how we feel when the girl at school doesn’t like us back, or even when our parents get divorced when we’re little. I’m talking about BREAKING on the inside.
  • That experience gave me the ability—for the first time in my life—to consciously empathize with others. While I was struggling to perform basic life tasks, only two things helped—family and friends who knew me BEFORE I was married because we had a pre-existing relationship to fall back on, and other people who had gone through divorce. I used to say “they just get it.” That’s true. But what they were actually doing was EMPATHIZING, which is my new favorite life skill and one I consider to be No. 1 on our Things We Need to Succeed at Marriage lists.

When two sober, healthy and seemingly functional adults love one another and promise each other they will continue to do so every day forever, it seems reasonable to expect that to work more than half the time.

But it doesn’t. Half the time it’s Hindenburg dot com. (That’s code for: crashes and burns.)

I can’t overstate how powerful the moment was when the puzzle pieces came together and I finally understood WHY. My Ah-Ha Moment. Our day-to-day existence is so much easier when we live unaware of danger. There’s nothing to fear or stress over, so you just derpy-derp around all the time, and it feels good. Hakuna-ma-dipshit-tata.

But living life unaware can result in everything you know and love going away, including your very sense of self (the YOU that you’ve known and recognized every second of your life dies). And that’s dangerous. I think marriage is important. I think children growing up with both of their parents together and showing them by example how to love effectively is important. And I think MOST divorce is needlessly wasteful because most don’t learn enough to have any more success in their next relationship than the one they think they’re escaping.

When I had my Ah-Ha Moment, I felt like I possessed the secret to life. This stuff is important. Damn near everyone on Earth, regardless of how they think about it, and independent of romance and intimacy, have interpersonal relationships, the quality of which will determine how good or bad life feels every day.

It’s not like it’s hiding or anything. These ideas SHOULDN’T be a secret. All the fish are swimming in water every second of their existence too, but they don’t know what water is.

It appears most people are born, grow up without the information they need to have healthy, functioning relationships, get married with a bunch of people patting them on the back and congratulating them, bring CHILDREN into their flimsy world, and then even though everyone is pretty good and pretty smart, it all breaks and turns to shit.

And why? Because we were unaware. We just—didn’t know better.

But when we’re in it—fighting with our spouses and feeling betrayed because they don’t seem to be loving us as they promised to on our wedding day—we sometimes feel like they’re deliberately causing us harm. And that hurts more than the thing they’re doing. That feeling that they would WANT to hurt us. That’s what hurts the most.

How to KNOW Whether Your Spouse is Hurting You on Purpose

You ask them.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m totally serious. ASK THEM. Effectively.

We rarely ask ourselves or others the right questions.

What are the right questions?

The right questions challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative.

better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

“She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

“That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

‘What Question Should I Ask?’

Great question! I think it has a simple answer.

“Do you know why I am upset with you?”

Or.

“When you think back to [insert personal experience] and how that hurt you—on the inside—do you understand that I feel similarly right now?”

Or. (A more cooperative exercise.)

“In an effort to try to understand you and not fight about this, I want to try to make your argument for you. I want to accurately state what you think and feel, and why you think and feel that way so that you know I understand you. I was hoping you would agree to do the same for me. Will you?”

The point of this entire post is this: Until your husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend, demonstrates beyond doubt they can accurately articulate your point of view, you can safely conclude that THEY DON’T KNOW HOW YOU REALLY FEEL.

I don’t think the significance of that can be overstated.

I don’t think any of us sensitive to the other side of divorce could sleep at night if we had a true picture of the amount of broken homes, broken families, broken people, broken children, broken spirits that have resulted from this one little notion…

Two people didn’t actually know how the other felt.

What if all the pain and dysfunction is just one, big misunderstanding?

What if looking at the world through the curious eyes of children can save our adult selves?

What if something simple and ironic like asking the right question is the answer we’ve been looking for all along?

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When Life Erodes Faith

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

Maybe it’s different when all you know is hopelessness.

When warlords kidnap your children and force them to murder.

When mosquito bites or severe weather or missile attacks annihilate your village.

When all you ever know is poverty and illness and violence and death.

Maybe then, life is so bleak that you never really care whether you live or die. Maybe death and an eternity of nothingness sounds like sweet relief when nothing good ever happens anyway.

That’s not how it was for me.

Even though my earliest memories are living in a trailer park.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4 and I didn’t get to see my dad very much because he lived 500 miles away.

Even though we never had a lot of money to do a lot of things other kids I knew were doing growing up.

Everything was great. I didn’t just feel loved. I felt special. I think it’s because my mom and grandparents were trying to compensate for my parents’ divorce by telling me how great I was all the time. Over and over again, my family would recount the story to me and anyone who would listen about how I wasn’t even supposed to be here.

The doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it on the day of my birth in 1979. The nurses took to calling me “the Miracle Baby.”

The unlikely human.

That’s me, I guess. I can’t remember much before about age 4, so I’ve never been particularly moved by the story.

I was showered with love and affection from my mother’s rather large extended family. There was no shortage of attention.

“Do you know how special you are, Matt?” my grandmother liked to ask me.

When you’re a child, you believe everything you hear, especially from parents and other trusted adults.

They told me things. My parents and other adults. And they could never lie or be wrong because when you’re little, it seems like they’re never wrong.

We believe fantastic stories.

Santa Claus. Delivering presents to every little boy and girl in the world in one night. Magic.

The Easter Bunny. I never imagined an actual bunny. More like a guy in a large bunny outfit. And that somehow didn’t give me nightmares.

The Tooth Fairy. I pictured someone small and Tinkerbell-like. But she had full-size money.

Mythical beings. I believed all of them to exist at varying points in my life.

When you accept these things on faith, and you grow up going to Sunday school classes followed by 12 years of Catholic school, it’s really not that hard to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, or that Jonah survived inside a whale for three days, or that the entire world was once flooded and everyone died except for Noah and his family who survived on a really large hand-built boat with a bunch of animals they rescued.

When you’re a kid, you just think: Sure! Noah and his incestuous family repopulated the Earth! Makes sense to me!

I used to get uncomfortable when I’d hear people ask questions that challenged any of my beliefs. You’re supposed to just BELIEVE! Like me! Trust me! I’m right! My parents told me and they’re never wrong!

Then my uncle died in a hit-and-run car accident and his murderer was never found.

Then I was a student leader on a Christian retreat in high school when total chaos erupted because my friend was accused of raping my other friend in one of the dorm rooms. So, either I’m friends with a rapist, or I’m friends with someone who lies about being raped.

Then my mom left my stepdad after 20 years.

Then we lost my father-in-law and my wife was never the same.

Then she stopped being my wife because I apparently wasn’t THAT special, grandma.

Then I sort of stopped caring whether I died because—honestly? Fuck this.

It’s totally unsettling when all the stories you ever believed about life and yourself turn out to be wrong.

Not lies.

Not fake.

But, wrong.

You find out secrets about people you know and then you can never think of them the same and you wish you didn’t know the secrets.

Your friends get divorced and everything feels a little bit tainted and broken after that.

People die. And you use to think: I’m sad that you’re gone, but I hope you have an amazing time in heaven and that I get to see you someday.

But now, you just think: I hope they’re there, but what if they’re not?

What if this is all there is?, and you scare yourself because now you know that you don’t know. Now, people talk about heaven, and in the back of your mind, you secretly think: I want you to be right, but I don’t want you to know how unsure I feel about that.

The loss of innocence that happens, usually incrementally, between childhood and adulthood is a quandary. Better to have everyone go through the shock-and-awe process? Or maybe, should we be doing a better job of preparing children for some of life’s harsh realities?

Protect and preserve their innocence for as long as possible? Let kids be kids? Or try to make it so the adult transition is less of a brutal mind job?

You have to be an adult before you learn there are no easy answers.

The sun shone through the gorgeous stained-glass window. St. Matthew’s name is at the bottom. There’s a purple flower I can’t identify just above the Star of David.

The priest was speaking from the pulpit. About faith.

Per the Gospel reading, Christ had resurrected from the dead. But Thomas was doubting the story his friends and fellow Christ followers were telling him because people just don’t come back from the dead. Doubting Thomas needed to see for himself.

Per the story, Jesus shows up. Lets Thomas touch him. See his wounds. Hear him speak. And, of course, Thomas believes now. Physical evidence of the greatest miracle ever told.

I use to feel sorry for Thomas because he couldn’t have faith like me. But now, I just totally get him. A sobering and depressing realization.

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” Jesus said to Thomas and all within earshot.

But now I’m sitting in the pew, no longer knowing what I use to know.

I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I’m saying: I don’t know. And I need it to be okay with everyone that I don’t know because that’s what’s true, and truth shouldn’t need defended.

The priest talked about how when people don’t eat intelligently and don’t take care of their physical bodies, they tend to get sick and die.

When you do eat smartly and build your body up, you tend to feel youthful and vibrant and prolong your life.

Then he transitioned to matters of faith.

“This is why we PRACTICE our faith,” he said. We always get better at things when we practice them.

The only way to have a strong, youthful, vibrant, unwavering faith? To practice it, he said. When you neglect your spiritual health, your faith erodes, he said.

Withers away into nothingness like our dead bodies in the ground.

I was reading a space encyclopedia for kids with my son. A pretty thorough explanation of our solar system and what we currently know about the universe.

As best as science can tell us, everything we know to be physical matter—that is STUFF, like planets and stars and comets; all physical objects—makes up about 5 percent of the known universe. That’s it. Five percent.

“26.8% of matter is ‘dark’, we know it’s there because on large, cosmic, scales stuff moves around faster than it should and because the way that galaxies strew themselves across space is consistent with the existence of vast amounts of slow-moving gravitating ‘stuff’ that never turns into stars or planets or anything, just stays as diffuse, invisible, incredibly antisocial particles,” wrote Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s Astrobiology Center, in Scientific American.

We don’t really know anything about those particles, either.

The largest percentage of stuff in the universe is called “dark energy.”

“Something is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. It didn’t used to. Until about 5 or 6 billion years ago the stretching of space following the Big Bang was in decline, but then something started to counter that, another unseen component, perhaps a type of vacuum energy density that fills up space as space itself grows. What exactly is it? We do not know. We have lots of ideas though, which is great, always good to have ideas about 68.3% of the universe,” Scharf wrote.

It’s possible that life is meaningless and that how we spend our time and how we treat others doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t feel that way. No matter how right or wrong my parents were, it very much feels to me like our choices matter.

I look around and see an astounding amount of beauty. Spring has sprung where I live. Color and life returning as it does each year. Rebirth.

A cycle that feels entirely too intricate to me to have just happened by chance.

I really look.

I don’t see random chaos.

I see order.

I see creativity.

I see design.

Scharf said it all.

What EXACTLY is it? We don’t know. We have lots of ideas, though. Which is great. It’s always good to have ideas about the universe. About all that stuff we can’t explain.

Hello, God. It’s me, Matt.

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