Is there such thing as a luxury question?Mar 08, 2023
It is a month exactly since I returned from India and I'm still processing the journey. My body is not yet done working it out and neither is my psyche. I had a hard time with the food, the beds, the heat, but still I left India with a tender and intimate feeling because of the connections and conversations I had with people.
After the first 15 days in work mode -- and granted participatory practice and the Flow Game are very people growth oriented -- I found myself very open and curious. I love learning about culture and why people do the things they do. I am consistently amazed and in awe of how people have adapted to live all over the planet and how where and in the ways they've chosen to live impact their perceptions of reality.
Last week I had a conversation with a new colleague who told me one of his favourite ways to learn about people is to ask them to complete the sentence: "If you knew me, you'd know that I..."
I answered: "If you knew me, you'd know that I watch a movie all the way to the end. Somehow I always think I'll see someone I know in the credits, and often I have. I also love the "behind the scenes" stuff. The Lord of the Rings DVD had 30 hours of behind the scenes. I watched it all."
Now you get a sense of how I'd approach a new place and people.
So picture me in the small shopping street -- about twice as wide as your ordinary footpath, really. It's night, it's steamy hot and I've escaped my beach cottage because the DJ set up about 3 meters from my bed started playing loud music at 5 pm. When I asked him he'd told me not to worry, he'd be done by 10:25 pm.
So it's about 9:30 at night. The electricity had been going off and on all evening. For something to do I'm wandering up and down and having conversations (some of these were in my last newsletter). I'm sitting in a jewellery shop in the dark fanning myself and speaking with the young guy behind the counter, as I find out the shop is owned by his father. After awhile listening, I ask him: "If anything were possible and you could do whatever you dreamed, what would it be?"
I asked this same question to two more men -- there were very few women out and about except for tourists -- and was met by silence each time.
I realised the question I was asking could not land because the core of it was not even a concept to the people I was asking.
I was sitting in that moment in a very communally oriented culture. My young friend in the restaurant is the eldest son. Of course his first thought and responsibility is to take care of his family. This is his prime orientation and his culture has trained him this is the paramount focus, far beyond any of his own needs or desires.
I found myself pondering deeply. I feel we are at a time on the planet where the dance of ME and WE is swirling. Some cultures are so ME oriented that it is acceptable for people to be violent to each other, either bodily or in social media. Some cultures are so WE oriented that there is no room for personal expression that steps outside the confines of what is considered social acceptable.
So is it possible to become a planet where WE has us realise and serve the interconnectedness of life and also allows ME to express the beautiful gifts each individual has been given?
Really, it all depends on the stories we decide to tell ourselves and each other.
In conversation with my sister about this, she said: "Maybe you are asking a luxury question."
As the leader of the adult education side for a small university, she's come into contact with people from all walks of life. Her statement hit me hard.
If you are in survival mode, of course the kind of question I was asking doesn't feature. You are focusing on where the next meal is coming from, if it is safe in your immediate environment, whether the bombs are going to drop today. Even as serious as these questions are in the moment, I call them the "what's for dinner?" question.
And then it struck me that the questions I love are always transformational questions. And I realised that life has asked me to ask these kind of questions because I can. I don't have the responsibilities of family and place so many have. And further, I thought, some of us have to be asking these kind of questions so more of us can get out of being stuck in the "what's for dinner?" question.
Later I was speaking to someone else who mused that self-actualisation questions disappear at the level of survival. I'm not so sure. I think "why is this happening to me/us?", "Who am I in the face of this?", "What can I hold onto that will give me a focus for living?" as Viktor Frankl asked himself, still exist in the face of dire emergency. It's just that they don't predominate.
To be a human being is to be born with the question "Why?" I think this is the reason the great intelligence, whatever you presume it to be, has seeded this question into our children. And why they ask it so continually.
What I know about questions -- what I love about questions -- is that they are a powerful doorway to new perception and understanding. It all depends on how we choose to use them. If we become too focused on problem solving, we miss the opportunity to take the ladder we are climbing and move it to a different wall. We focus on the next step up the mountain and miss the view and the journey all together.
Crafting and dancing with powerful questions is both a skill and an art. And I am a glad student.
Isn't it time to have a brilliant ally on your side?
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