The Right Question


How many times do we ask the wrong question? How do we know when we are asking the right question? Is there a way to know when we could be asking a better question?

Last night a friend shared a story about a young man who broke into a woman’s home and attacked her and her child with a PVC pipe. The random act of violence generated the following questions and statements:

Why did he do it?

Wonder if he was on drugs?

I bet he’s mentally ill.

See, they should ban PVC.

I read the story and my first thought was, “I wonder what demons he was facing that led him to commit such an atrocity?”

While I’m glad that was my first thought and not, “What a scumbag!” I must admit that it might not be the right question. I mean it’s a good question, but is it the best question?

What if instead of wondering what was wrong with the young man, I instead asked, “What is wrong with our society?” I mean why do I want to put the blame on this man instead of on myself? Isn’t the right question the question that figures out what it is in our world that is failing others? Something isn’t working here. We have too many people using drugs. We have too many people suffering from mental illness. What can I do, or better yet, what can we all do to create a loving society? How can we eradicate violence, hatred, hurt and pain?

I have never before taken the blame for acts of violence committed by others, but if we truly all are one human family–and we are–then I share responsibility for an unloving environment. I mean think about your home. If there is fighting in your home who’s fault is it? ┬áSure there may be one child who is more difficult than others, or who is more commonly the instigator, but doesn’t everyone in the family bear some responsibility for the disharmony? What is causing one of the children to act out? How are the other family members contributing to the lack of peace?

The right question is always the one where we all take responsibility. This approach, owning the blame, is my new barometer for knowing when I’m asking the right question. Since I can only control my actions, I must ask questions that put me in the driver’s seat.

So maybe there aren’t really any “wrong” questions, just good, better and best questions. A bad or unhelpful question is one that pushes blame or responsibility on others–or any question that separates you from the whole of humanity. A crummy question would be, “Why is he such a psychopath?”

The good or better question would be the one that demonstrates compassion, such as, “I wonder what has happened in his life that has caused him to hurt so much and therefore hurt others?”

The best or right question would be, “I wonder how I can help him and all others who are hurting like him meet their needs so that no one feels the need to hurt others again?

When we ask better questions, we’ll get better answers. The right question = The right answer.