5 Proactive Questions to Ask for a Lifetime

learning Aug 02, 2016

I'm a fan of questions.  It seems to me that questions are more important than answers because questions open us to possibilities while answers close everything down.  Once we think we have the answer, we stop asking the questions. In the language of Appreciative Inquiry, we grow in the direction of the questions we ask.  So questions are really important in our lives now and in the future.

This week Harvard Dean James Ryan gave a commencement address at Harvard and the video above is a small but key excerpt, the heart of the message, and it is perhaps the best commencement address I've ever heard. It had all the right elements for young people launching themselves out into the world pursuing their newly completed formal education AND it also was also spot on for the rest of us. 

He offers five questions that if asked regularly throughout our lives he suggests will make us successful AND happy. I think he's on to something really important for all of us as we go through life, sometimes neglecting to inquire deeper or maybe even inquire at all. I'll list them here in brief but do watch the video - it is 6 minutes well spent. 

1. "Wait, what?" This is the ultimate clarifying question. :) Another version of it is, "Wait, what just happened?" 

2. I wonder ... why (or if) ... which spurs curiosity and nudges us into our imagination. And, according to Einstein, imagination is more important than knowledge. As we age many of spend less time in the land of wonder, imagination -- let's go there more often. 

3. "Couldn't we at least ....." try something new, something different, something interesting? This is the question that leads us to make some kind of progress when we get stuck. 

4. "How can I help?" I love this question, instead of assuming we know what to do to help, ask. We may be surprised AND we may actually be able to provide help that really matters and makes a difference. 

5. "What truly matters?" Professor Dean suggests this is a great question to ask when starting a new year instead of a resolution, get clear on what truly has meaning for you. What truly matters in my life? my work? in the world? It aligns with the work of the late Angeles Arrien's teachings in The Four-Fold Way. One of the four principles is pay attention to what has heart and meaning for you, as in what truly matters. 

and then Dean Ryan offers a beautiful bit of poetry titled Late Fragment by Raymond Carver that leads into the bonus round, asking us, "Did you get what you want, even so?" 

Pause. Breathe. Let it soak in. 

How might the world be different if you and I and all of us felt beloved, cherished, valued?  
What would be different?
Let's imagine it so we can make it so.