The Wisdom of Questioning

J0145373When an individual or group blindly accepts a concept as truth without questioning, we might say they “drank the Kool-Aid“.  This saying is based on an unfortunate incident in the past where a large group of people died following their troubled leader’s orders.  Blind acceptance without reason is often a fool-hardy venture and sometimes even dangerous.  But there are so many things, great and small, that we blindly accept and act on every day without question and without thought to the bigger picture.

The self-help literature is chock full of advice to know who you are, seek your truth, and project the courage of your convictions. Its no wonder that we start to see questioning as undesirable or weak. Here are some things many of us in the US tend to strongly believe in, value, and act on unquestioningly, but that may deserve deeper consideration:

The social norms research shows us that we tend to adjust our behavior and attitudes to match what we perceive as “normal” – which is unfortunately frequently a misperception of what the majority actually believe and do.  This misperception can eventually perpetuate and amplify extremes.  The media also influences our attitudes and values by overfocusing on the sensational and limiting the scope of what we are exposed to.

People find it quite easy to have beliefs and to hold on to them and to let their whole world be a product of their belief system. They also find it quite easy to attack those who disagree. The harder, more courageous thing, which the hero and the heroine, the warrior, and the mystic do, is continually to look one’s beliefs straight in the face, honestly and clearly, and then step beyond them. ― Pema Chödrön

It is not uncommon to experience guilt when questioning our most deeply held beliefs; however, it is important to remember that some of the most faithful individuals have struggled through intense periods of questioning.  Psychological research tells us that questioning can actually ultimately strengthen a belief – an argument that also broaches the dissenting view tends to be the most persuasive. Questioning our values allows us to figure out if we are following them out of wisdom or merely out of habit.

Being willing to question also helps us be more flexible. We find ourselves increasingly open to new experiences, adaptable to change, and welcoming of differences. We are eager to experiment and we can listen to other views with a receptive attitude. This creates additional opportunities for growth and learning. Yani Tseng, the youngest LPGA tour golfer to ever win five major championships said of her experience, “I started second-guessing myself and was always questioning myself. I have really learned a lot.”

Of course questioning, like most things, is most useful when used in moderation. In any given moment, we have to be willing to settle on a best guess so that we are not completely paralyzed with uncertainty. However, we can do this with the understanding that situations change, new information may emerge, and so we will likely be called to question once again.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. – Albert Einstein

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