Friday, September 12, 2008

On Questions or Something Else?

The other day while I was browsing in the Philosophy section of Barnes and Noble, I was approached by an odd-looking (and possibly slightly disturbed) old man who asked me if I was "looking for the answers." Now, the trainwreck of a belief system the old man was to expound upon for the better part of 30 minutes is another story, but to his initial inquiry I responded in the negative. Later, I wished I had had the presence of mind to shoot back: "No, I'm looking for books." But it was a conversation with a friend about the encounter that produced the best answer, though it doubtlessly would have been lost on the old man. The response should have been, "no, I'm looking for questions."

And I am. When I read back on a lot of the things I've written here, I find many of them are peppered with questions. Many of them may be rhetorical, but that's alright. The point is, they're being asked, and whether they require no answer, have no answer, or have many answers, they all serve to stimulate the minds they're being posed to. Our language-filled world is rife with moral ambiguity, and often the only way that one can traverse the fractured, delicate social landscape is to pose questions, which help to illuminate ours and other's intentions and desires, as well as the occasionally murky chains of cause and effect and the consequences of potential courses of action.

And while I may always be looking for questions, that does not mean that I'm unconcerned with answers, only that the answers one uncovers should be viewed as a means, not as the end. This may seem like a backwards way at approaching the question/answer dichotomy. This is where a lot of people stumble, I believe, and why a lot of people fall into close-minded routines and ill-informed systems of belief. Many people stop at the first seemingly coherent answer provided to their inquiries, and depending on the context, this can be a dangerous practice. Many religious beliefs and social and economic ideologies are supported by steadfast adherence to just-satisifactory answers, and as a result, tolerance, understanding, communication and mutual respect often rapidly break down. And rest assurred, I'm by no means attempting to issue some sort of "final answer" in my ramblings here. I can't say for sure that the methodology I place my faith in (yes, in the protean realm of human consciousness and its place in the universe, even logic and science take a measure of faith) is the best path to the "truth" we all seek to varying degrees, but I've found that it has helped me to become a more informed, well-rounded, and high-minded individual. Questioning the world is never a waste of time, and the best answers will clarify the topic of your initial inquiry and instigate new lines of questioning.

It is true that you may not always find answers for the questions you have. It is also true that even in considering questions with elusive answers, the multitude of intuitive systems in your brain are shaping your opinions and options and helping you to become a broad and logical thinker. A little healthy skepticism and an inquisitive nature has never hurt anyone. Some revelations may be emotionally or philosophically disturbing, but few intelligent people should find themselves asking to be returned to their ignorance regarding issues that effect them so personally. One could argue that the occasional frightening discovery in the course of dedicated question-asking is likely only to help one in future considerations, and having many tiny bubbles burst throughout the course of one's lifetime is surely preferable to letting a single, vulnerable bubble grow and grow until someone or something finds the desire to stick a pin in it irresistable.

And so on and so forth. What's the point of all this musing you ask? Well, that's a question. I've already got you started. And what's the answer? Just an attempt to understand why I ask so many questions. Already I've stumbled upon some ideas during the course of this relatively stream-of-consciousness bout of pondering that will likely produce more questions. And maybe you don't agree with some of what I've had to say. Good. It's your right (and arguably your duty) to question it. It'll only help you to articulate and refine your own position. And however different your opinions and whatever you discover on your way to developing them, I'm hoping that at least on this point you'll agree with me:

There is nothing more important than uncovering and understanding what it means to be you.

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