On the first day of teaching my interpersonal communications class at Northwest Tech, before I said anything, I asked my students, “What is the most important thing I have said so far?” I think that’s the best question I have ever asked my students.
After they took a stab at some answers one of the students got it right. “Maybe it is what you haven’t said that really is the most important thing.” I let the student take the rest of the semester off. I should have asked him, “Would you like to help me teach the class?”
I think I would have made a good talk show host because I love asking people questions. I enjoy learning where they grew up, what they like to do when they are not working, where they graduated from high school and what are their dreams for the future. The more they tell me, the more I learn. I am a professional student and this is one way I can be taught without paying tuition. Someone did ask me once, “Did you know that you do look a little like David Letterman?”
I remember quite a few years ago I wrote a column where I used nothing but questions. I wonder if anyone read it?
What was the last big question you asked or that was asked of you? Isn’t that a good question?
I had the opportunity to attend a summer seminar for principals at Harvard way back when. One of our instructors talked to us about school law and he did it by doing nothing but asking questions. It was truly a remarkable teaching strategy. Maybe he wanted to be the current day version of Socrates who also used questions to teach. They say Socrates was given hemlock poison to drink because he was corrupting the minds of youth by asking too many questions. Can you still buy hemlock?
Some questions can be scary. I was asked a scary question a few weeks ago when I was in my fish house. I heard these snowmobiles coming towards me and before I knew it there was a rap on the door, “Can we see your license?”
I said “no.” My license was still in my summer tackle box so I asked them if I could go get it on shore. We walked to shore together. I dug out the license and they said “Well, it looks like you are current.” They were very nice about it and then I asked them, “Do you know where the fish are biting?”
I guess the most important question I asked anyone was of my wife when I kind of stumbled and stuttered, “Will you marry me?” Or, did I say, “How would you like to marry me?”
Or was it, “How would you feel about marrying someone from the Bullhead Capital of the World?” Anyway, she said, “Sure.” Or, was it, “If you want to.” Or, “Well, okay.”
It takes some courage to ask the really important questions. Questions that kids pose to their parents as teens can be risky. “Mom, Dad, can I go out on a date Friday night?” When daughters ask this question, parents begin thinking about the definition of “perplexed,” which happens when your lovely teen-age daughter shows up at 4 in the morning carrying a Gideon Bible. Were you ever perplexed about your kids?
Sometimes questions can be silly but still important to the person asking the question. George Carlin tells the story of a man on a park bench sitting on a newspaper. Another man walks by, sees the paper under the man’s rear end and asks, “Are you through reading the paper?” I don’t have to explain why that is funny, do I?”
If you had an audience with President Obama and could only ask him one question, what would it be? I would ask him, “Were you really born in Hawaii?” (Just kidding.) No, I would ask him, “How would you like to spend some time in Bemidji fishing through a hole in the ice?” What would you ask him? What would your kids ask him?
Other than “Will you marry me?” the other most important question I ever asked was “Can I ask your daughter to be my wife?” Yes, I actually asked my wife’s father and mother if I could marry her. Now wasn’t that a nice thing to do?
So what did they say? They said, “How soon?” No, not really. They said something like, “That would be just fine and we would be proud to have you in the family.” I hope I made them proud. I wonder if I did?
I then asked them, “Could I take Kathy out on a date? I promise I will bring her home before 2.” They looked a little perplexed.
JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.