in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

• Last updated: June 1, 2021

Sunday Firesides: To Get the Right Answer, You Must Ask the Right Question

You walk up to a door and put the wrong key in the lock. It doesn’t turn. Do you then keep trying that same key over and over again?

Of course not.

Yet we do something very similar when we’re seeking to gain access to important insights in life. We ask a question, find the sought-for answer barred to us . . . and yet keep asking the very same thing, hoping that with the passage of time or a change in circumstances, the understanding will somehow come.

What’s needed to unlock the insight often isn’t persistence, but the trying of a different key — the asking of a different question.

Rather than asking, “What’s my purpose in life?” try asking: “What do I have a gift for?” (As Emerson wisely counsels: “The talent is the call.”)

Or, try changing “What do I want from life?” to “What is life asking of me?” (To paraphrase Viktor Frankl.) 

Instead of asking, “Why are people treating me this way?” ask: “What am I doing that is eliciting this treatment?” 

Switch “What’s the right decision to get me where I want to be in five years?” with “What’s the right decision, for right now?”

Don’t only ask: “Is this religious or philosophical premise real or true?” but also: “What are its fruits? Does it work?” Even simply, “Is it Beautiful?” (Emerson again: “Beauty is the pilot of the young soul.”) And, be sure to first inquire: “What does it mean for something to be real or true, anyway?”

These are just examples; the query you need to formulate may be unique. Just as the shape of a key and the pins of a lock must align in order for that lock to turn, for the door to swing open on the right answer, you must ask the right question.

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