Note: This post has been updated and incorporated into 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner – an essential read for the serious lifelong learner.
Questions are engines of reason. Thus, you need to learn how to form questions sensibly rather than emotionally. – Epictetus
Ever attended a class or seminar and when the time came for participants to ask questions, only one or two hands are raised (if any) – out of a room with dozens of people in it?
Ever read a provocative newspaper article, blog entry, Facebook wall post, or tweet and not submitted a question about the “facts” it contains or the author’s sources and motivations?
Ever voted in an election without really asking who the candidates are and whether the issues they stand for are the ones that deserve priority?
How can we know if we do not ask? Why should we ask if we are certain we know? All answers come out of the question. – Ellen Langer from The Power of Mindful Learning
I could go on, but you get the point. Our days are filled with opportunities for asking questions that we often don’t take. Much of the time that’s fine: it can get exhausting to question everything. But I think there is plenty of evidence that most of us, most of the time, are not asking enough questions – much less good ones.
As I’ve pointed out before, toddlers have no problem asking lots of questions, but as we age, life demands, social pressures, and perhaps just plain fatigue tend to sap our desire and ability to continually probe, particularly outside of the comfort zones into which we inevitably settle. If you want to be a better learner, you have to cultivate – daily, consciously – both the desire and the ability to ask questions. It’s that simple, and that hard.