Monday, March 29, 2010

More than You Know

I spent Thursday and Friday in New Jersey working with my friend Jonathan and then hanging out together at night. In the evenings I got to reconnect with old friends and meet new friends. In particular, I got to spend time with and get to better know Jonathan's mom and sisters. It was really fun.

What's with All the Questions?
One of the things that I tend to do when hanging out with people (or pretty much any time I'm with people) is to ask a lot of questions. Friday night, as we sat talking in the kitchen of Jonathan's sister Nancy, I started asking questions of Nancy's friend Lori. Nancy goodheartedly quipped something like, "Watch out, here he goes!"

Now, I get that a lot. People notice that I ask a lot of questions and make different assertions as to why.

Some see all my questions as a kind of shtick which is Yiddish for either a contrived and often used bit of business that a performer uses to steal attention (as in 'play it straight with no shtick') or a devious trick or a bit of cheating (as in 'how did you ever fall for a shtick like that?'). Others, see the questions as a way of hiding whatever my agenda might be, making themselves nervous and spending a lot of time on "why did you ask that?" And still others think that I simply don't like to answer questions, so I ask them instead.

Indeed, to the extent that doing something frequently qualifies as shtick, then perhaps shtick it is. However, although I'm aware of various questions that I seem to ask more frequently than others, I'm not aware of any specific pattern or series of questions that I use repeatedly. The agenda part is always funny in that I'm typically simply interested and curious about the other person, not driving towards anything in particular, but just seeing where the questions and answers will take us. I'm not sure why people find it hard to believe that you're just curious about them, but a lot of people do (find it hard to believe).

The Gorge of Eternal Peril
As we talked about my questioning, Jonathan, referring to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, asked, "What's your favorite color?"

In the movie, King Arthur and his crew approach the Bridge of Death that spans the Gorge of Eternal Peril. To cross the bridge, one must correctly answer three questions put forth by the bridge keeper. If answered correctly, one may proceed. If not, one is cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril.

Sir Launcelot
The first to approach the keeper of the bridge is Sir Launcelot.
KEEPER: Stop! Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, 'ere the other side he see.
LAUNCELOT: Ask me the questions, bridge-keeper. I'm not afraid.
KEEPER: What is your name?
LAUNCELOT: My name is Sir Launcelot of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
LAUNCELOT: To seek the Holy Grail.
KEEPER: What is your favorite color?
KEEPER: Right. Off you go.
LAUNCELOT: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.
Seeing that Launcelot has crossed safely and that the questions were easy, Sir Robin goes next.
ROBIN: That's easy!
KEEPER: Stop! Who approaches the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, 'ere the other side he see.
ROBIN: Ask me the questions, bridge-keeper. I'm not afraid.
KEEPER: What is your name?
ROBIN: Sir Robin of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
ROBIN: To seek the Holy Grail.
KEEPER: What is the capital of Assyria?
ROBIN: I don't know that! Auuuuuuuugh!
Poor Sir Robin is cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. Sir Galahad approaches the keeper.
KEEPER: Stop! What is your name?
GALAHAD: Sir Galahad of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
GALAHAD: I seek the Holy Grail.
KEEPER: What is your favorite color?
GALAHAD: Blue. No yel-- Auuuuuuuugh!

When it comes to questions, I think that many of us treat the answers as though getting them 'wrong' might result in our being cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. We start to wonder what's really motivating the questioner. We start to second guess our answers. We start to wonder if our favorite color is blue, no yel--auuugghhh.

Dumbing Ourselves Down
Whatever the motivation is, being concerned about getting answers 'right' has this amazing effect of making us stupid. Oftentimes, the answer that first comes to mind is simply amazing, and yet, we're not sure about it, so we say, "I don't know."

Many of us will play a game of 'wait and see' to make sure that it's 'safe' to answer or to say what we think. We know that we have something to offer, but we hold back.

Indeed, there are many times when people who ask questions do so with hidden agenda. There are many times when people are simply performing shtick. Nonetheless, why hold back, denying yourself and others all your brilliance inside that's just busting to get out.

One of the biggest limiting beliefs that many of us have adopted is, "I have to get this right!" I have a couple of alternatives to suggest:
  1. Very little that we do is set in stone, irreversible or unchangeable.
  2. Getting it 'best' works much better than getting it 'right'. By getting it best, we simply make each answer the best we have at that moment. A moment later, we can get it best again (making it even better.)
Happy Monday!



  1. A couple of quick-hit comments:
    1. Some questions, notably the "Why" question, have irretrievably (in most circles) come to be associated with objections. The "How come" alternate works sometimes, but with people who are Option-acquainted, it can be still seen as a mask for objections that might take time to overcome.
    2. The need to get it right can be quite deep-seated, since we typically go through a lifetime of being rewarded for 'right' and punished for 'wrong' (at home, school, work, etc). Each person has to come to a personal point of seeing that 'getting it best' provides more useful experiences without risk to survival than the 'getting it right' that has worked for them all their life.


  2. I'm not sure not sure that I'm ready to go with 'irretrievable' (yet), but indeed, 'Why' questions do seem to be solidly linked to objection or accusation. I agree that rephrasing why questions can be quite helpful (e.g., focusing on the decision process with 'how did you come to that conclusion?'). However, that's only effective if indeed the questioner is NOT levying an accusation or objection.

    I wonder whether or not 'deeply seated' is the best characterization. Certainly 'getting it right' is well practiced. But, it could be that the difference between trying to get it right and trying to get it best is simply awareness and not courage? Growing up as someone who could never get it 'right' (or couldn't even get it wrong), I'm not particularly qualified to speak to the experience.

    If is deeply seated, then how does one unseat it?

  3. Teflon: "But, it could be that the difference between trying to get it right and trying to get it best is simply awareness and not courage? "

    Absolutely... in fact, if you break down to basics all the big character traits like courage, endurance, patience, etc, esp using an Option perspective, I think it could all be traced to an awareness of how things work and a simple (charge-less) choice of action. If I currently harbour a bias for getting it right, it's likely because I'm using beliefs created & reinforced over years of wanting those results, and I consequently have a reduced awareness of results from getting it best. The way to unseat those beliefs, methinks, would be to direct one's awareness to the other options possible, explore the pros and cons, and make the decision with new eyes on which way to go.

    P.S. as for irretrievable, of course - it may merely seem that way.

  4. Sree,
    I really like the idea that character traits are simply artifacts of awareness. There's nothing about them that is innate or immutable. This perspective alone completely changes how you might approach yourself or someone else exhibit undesired character traits. It's just a question of 'what am I missing here?' Really cool.

    It seems that a pivotal element of awareness required to transition from 'getting it right' to 'getting it best' is temporal. Getting it best typically involves 'failing' in the near term in order to do better in the long term. 'Failing' can mean anything from not being recognized as the best and brightest to being chided to getting fired. If our awareness is localized temporally, then it's probably not going to work.

    As I think about it, being really good at something (getting it right a lot) can be the biggest enemy of getting it best. Overtime, we can addict ourselves to the strokes and accolades; we don't want to experience the withdrawal that might come with 'getting it best'.

    Perhaps the easiest way to free ourselves from getting it right is not to begin in areas where we're accomplished, but instead, to regularly undertake new activities in areas where we completely suck?

    You're right about irretrievable, if it seems that way, then it is.


  5. Teflon: The time angle is a very good point. I think it can explain most of the situations where 'getting it right (now)' is the enemy of 'getting it better later'. I really like your suggestion on the easiest way to shake that habit.

    There are also situations where you may want to get it 'best', or 'good enough' with no desire to get it 'better' long-term (say you're asked at short notice to speak or perform in public, and you have a fear of the stage, and you have no intentions of improving yourself on that front; you can still go ahead and do the best you can, instead of rejecting the opportunity for fear of looking bad).

  6. hmmm....'fear of looking bad' is fear ever useful?

    For me its not about judging aiming as right vs wrong (failure), only about creating a present emotional experience, reflection, of value. of continual experimentation.....getting it better, easier, simpler, more effective in a spirit of accepting loving competition with oneself. bw

  7. Fear is certainly useful, BW; 6 billion people can't be wrong :-)

  8. Commonplace, yes, useful?

  9. I would argue that fear must absolutely be useful. If it were not, then people wouldn't, well, USE it. The question is one of it being best aligned to your goals. If in fact your goals are best achieved through fear, then useful it is. If not, well, then there's other ways to go about things.

    BW, I would say that there's nothing inherently useful or not useful about fear. It's just another tool that people use to achieve happiness. May not always work as well as planned, but it can also work to save people's lives.

    Sree, I agree, 'good enough' often is. I often err in not settling for 'good enough'. Being finite, not settling for good enough can be quite costly. That's a good one for me to think about.

  10. Tef, I didn't think I said fear is not useful.
    I was merely suggesting the usefulness of questioning its efficasy.

    I would agree it is simply another tool that people pretend or make-believe will take themselves to experience happiness, experiences of OK-ness. If one 'chooses to believe it beneficial,' to embrace fearfulness, or even insist on its necessity, to the extent of not even being open to examining its ramifications, and the belief structures put in place by one to sanction or to idolize choosing fear, vs self trusting, isn't that a curious self-blinding?

    Fear, I'm presently closely involved with family members, and histories of the adverse ramifications of choosing fear to the extent of being an interferance of the bodies built in harmonic functioning of health. Isn't this where all 'dis-ease' is created? within fearfulness, not being at peace, OK? Isn't Stress simply another word for fear? Doesn't the harmonics of healthy functioning become distracted by fear?

    Being able to react spontaneously, automatically, optimally, does not require Fear, rather I suggest vanquishing fears with preparedness, being more without fear, so as to prevent the prevalence of being shocked or stunned, impared response wise by fear. bw

    I know countless folk who seem robotically entwined with their love-afair involvement of being frightened, afraid, as proof of their caringness about others, self-blinded as to the confusing effects this fascilitates within their bodies dynamic response programming. If in fact one makes up their life and relationships as frightening and fearful enough, the body will 'look after' one quite amazingly and design a way to 'remove oneself' from the unpleasantness of the (+-) perception. :) bw

  11. BW, indeed, regarding the pervasive impact on life in general, I think perhaps you're talking about unhappiness, not fear. Although fear can definitely be one of the more commonly employed forms of unhappiness, it needn't necessarily be unhappy. You can even have, 'happy' fear, (adrenaline rush, hyper focus, etc.) hence the popularity of scary movies and extreme sports.

  12. Yes, indeed fear can induce a person to drug themselves. It sure can be addictive. Utilizing the tool, isn't it though simply a choice, based on a belief? Me thinks the addiction of extreme sports, scary movies, is simply another self-drugging example of a cultural, socially acceptable example of responses to addictions of bordom.

  13. I'm sure i signed that "teasingly smiling bw"


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