When you walk into a store and a staff member approaches you, what’s the most common thing they lead with? In my experience, 8/10 times it’s “how are you?”, the other 2/10 are “can I help you with anything?” For the duration of our lives, in most if not all situations, we ask questions. We are a curious bunch. What I want to know is: how much of all this question-asking is sincere? (Oh, look at that—another question)
In stores, I believe that if a staff member (who you’ve never met before) asks you how you are, they really don’t care. They don’t care how your day is going or how you are feeling … as long as you don’t have a breakdown in store.
My mother tested this theory once. She and I were at the cash register at our local grocey store when the lady behind the counter asked how she was. So my mother, instead of giving the customary response of “I’m good, thanks, how are you?” she said: “Actually, I’m not that great” and proceeded to tell the cashier why.
The poor cashier was utterly unprepared for this answer. She stuttered her way through an “Oh, I’m sorry”, averted her eyes and continued to scan goods. This is how I came to the conclusion that customary and insincere questions such as this are basically useless, worthless and redundant.
Questions are important, though. Without them, the world would have little knowledge. In order to satisfy curiosity, we ask questions. To get to know somebody, we ask questions. To pass school and courses and training, we ask questions … you get the point. We need questions and they are an ever-present part of everyone’s lives (whether we consciously recognise this or not).
How do we, though, make every question we ask count? What if we had a certain quota of questions that we could ask? What if after this quota is full, we can ask no more? Which questions would you ask to make them mean something?
Think about those questions. Put them in the forefront or your mind. Now, because we don’t have a question quota, ask yourself this: why haven’t you asked these questions before? What was it thst has stopped you in the past?
Throughout my schooling, I was told at parent/teacher/student interviews that I needed to contribute to class discussions more. I guess that, mainly, means that they wanted me to ask more questions. To me, that sounded absurd. I asked questions when I needed to. Why speak more than necessary? Apparently, acknowledgement of my presence was required more frequently. I never did properly acquiesce to their requests.
Have you ever heard the phrase “there are no stupid questions”? It’s true. There aren’t any sincere ones. Sure, an audience member—whether they be classmate, friend or anyone, really—may already know the answer to your question. This audience member may think that the answer to your question is obvious. That doesn’t make the question stupid. Just because you don’t know the answer to a question and someone else does, doesn’t mean the question is stupid. It doesn’t mean that you are stupid either. It makes you human—inquisitive and looking to expand your knowledge.
It feels bad—really bad—when someone laughs at a question you want to know the answer to. It makes you never want to ask another question again. But the laugher—the person who knows the answer already— also didn’t know the answer at some point and chances are that they asked the same question themselves in order to obtain the same information. So, the question wasn’t stupid when they asked it, but it is now? It doesn’t make sense.
Somebody told me once that they appreciated the fact that I never made fun of their questions—that I just answered truthfully and told them what I knew. I had never thought about it like that. It was this moment that made my outlook on the idea of questions solidify: no sincere question is stupid. No question that is asked in order to develop the knowledge of one’s mind should be ignored.
So, think about the questions that you want to be answered the most? And why haven’t you asked them?
The girl has her shoulders slumped and her eyes a raw pink. Her chest heaves whilst she waits for the answer she longs for. Her sobs are all she hears; they drown out everything else. She knows there are things around her, she just doesn’t care.
Her bleached locks somehow look darker as the wind picks them up and tosses them about her puffy and blotched face. She’s been there for a while just waiting in suspense. She needs a response. It’s gone way past the point of want.
A tree, about ten metres away, seems to stand with more pride than our girl dipped in peroxide. It seems to think it has taken control of the situation in this awful place. It waves its thin limbs to the beat set by the breeze.
Words fly through her brain—ones of little relevance and ones of all the relevance in the world. “Cartography”, “existential”, “morbidity”.
“I know how you feel” her friend of ten years had said. Ire ignited within her as soon as the words were uttered. He didn’t know. He doesn’t know. No one can. That’s why she is here alone and awaiting unspoken answers to her most pressing question of all.
2014—a year of hope? Maybe for some. She now calls it the “year of nope”. One that she would rather forget—too much, too soon.
She seems to be unable to continue to stand and lowers herself to the grass. She takes a deep breath between the sobs and stares at the stone before her. She asks her question again.