A friend of mine will soon have surgery and has heard that the surgery will take about an hour. He requests, “Do not wake me up until it ends”.  Estimating things is an art. How long will it take? How much will it cost? How will I know? When will it happen? When will it end? What will it be like? We could generate many more questions. Our brains are good at coming up with questions. Remember when you were a toddler? Many of us have memories going back that far, and if you do not have memories of your own, you may have experiences of being with toddlers. They are question machines. And unlike a vending machine, you do not have to prompt them or insert coins at all. They must come preprogrammed with questions.  

Questions show our interest as well as our ignorance. Sometimes, we fail to ask questions for fear of showing our ignorance. Gearing up to just let the questions fly is a form of art. Let yourself believe that you have a right to ask. I remember a professor telling the class there were no stupid questions, only stupid people who failed to ask. So, do not be stupid. Give yourself permission to ask. Who knows where that could lead?

I am sure each of you has a personal story related to this concept. The stories range from the simple, such as not noticing that the door opens “in” instead of “out”, to the tragic loss of a friend because you failed to ask, “What’s wrong?”  

Think about the last time you wanted to ask a question but did not. Examine how that felt. Remember what happened next. We often avoid asking questions because we have been through something before and expect a repeat of our past experience or because we fear no one will care. Imagine going to an event and sitting down with a friend. As you begin chatting, another person comes along, claims that your seat was supposed to be reserved for her, and asks you to move. First, there is the surprise of being interrupted, then the shock of the request. How do you respond? Your early training kicks in here and will determine the next thirty seconds. If your childhood has been seasoned with bullying and insults, you will defer or bristle and push back. If your childhood has been seasoned with the Southern training of politeness and giving way to power over, you will cede your seat and find another spot.  

Our early training pops up with frequency. We have these “little programs” from childhood, and they turn on automatically. Only in hindsight do we find other ways of responding. Our early training is programmed in right/wrong and good/bad endpoints. We call this Concrete Reasoning.  In many ways, the name is quite appropriate as our solutions are set in stone, and we react before we can think of an alternative.  We are either out of the seat or in a fight immediately. Only in retrospect can we think of various alternatives. Our developmental timer goes off before we can think.