A friend recently asked me if I ever throw anything away? I said are you crazy, of course not. Without going into the plusses and minuses of my philosophy, suffice it to say that, if I had, I would not be writing or you reading, this blog. It’s based on a book that a colleague and I started to write more years ago than I care to remember. It’s title was The Best Advice You Will Never Be Given: The World’s Best Questions . We liked the title a lot and the idea behind was pretty clever, or at least we thought so. Like many of my book projects it never saw the light of day – until now.
I managed to find a copy of the manuscript and before getting to the title above here are some extracts from that manuscript that read well after all these years. Everything in italics is taken directly from the ‘book’.
Why a book of questions?
The ancient Greek philosopher Confuseus once said a fool knows the right answer, a wise man knows the right question (there is no such person). Before and since the Greeks the thirst for knowledge has been a fundamental part of the human condition. There has been a continuing and an enduring quest for growth, for learning, for development, for understanding, for self-awareness, for self-help, choose your preferred term. The search has been pervasive. Primarily this quest has taken the form of an insatiable search for answers. We have come to see the process of learning as being synonymous with the getting of answers. This book suggests this has been a misguided quest. In order to ensure our learning is efficient, flexible, useful and long-lasting our search needs to be not for answers, but for questions. The challenge that confronts us as learners and teachers in today’s rapidly changing world isn’t what’s the right answer but, what’s the best question?
We gathered a few supportive quotes over the ages about questions: Buckminster Fuller said “if you want to teach people a new way of thinking don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” “All our knowledge results from questions, which is another way of saying that question-asking is our most important intellectual tool.” Postman, 1979. “He that questioneth much shall learn much, but especially if he apply his questions to the skill of the person whom he asketh, for he shall give them occasion to please themselves in speaking and himself shall continually gather knowledge.” Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)
And some more quotes that poo pooed the notion of giving and getting advice. Oscar Wilde said “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never any use to oneself.” Later we wrote, The problem with giving advice in these post-modernist, changing times is that advice goes out of date very quickly. Tim Gallwey in his famous book “The Inner Game of Golf’ made the point in another way. He saw his role not as giving advice but enabling the student to raise their level of consciousness about how they were playing to the point where they could make their own corrections. His friend Al said ”so you never try to help him (the student) make the correction even if you can see what’s wrong?’ Gallwey replied “No.. Most of us have become so reliant on external authority to correct ourselves that we’ve lost confidence in the extremely sophisticated mechanisms we have within us for self-correction.”
We also went to some trouble to clarify the downside to continual question-asking
Knowing when to stop (asking questions)
Perversely this is probably more difficult than knowing where to start. At its simplest it means being able to recognise when you have gone far enough to get an answer that is helpful to you, an answer that moves you forward. Your response to a question might be something like “because I want to be happy,” – does this answer help? Probably it is a bit vague, so ask ‘why?’ or ‘why is this important?’ Keep going with the ‘why’ questions until you sense you have reached a point of clarity that is helpful to you in terms of taking a next step.
‘Why is this a problem?’ is another question of this type. “I hate work,” Why is this a problem? “because I am wasting my life.” Why is this a problem? Avoid the cyclic trap of one answer leading you back to somewhere you have already been. Generally you are trying to move from a vague answer that is unhelpful to a more specific answer that gives you an action you can go and do. That is the purpose of the sequence of questions
Another example which might help is taken from George Kelly’s ‘Construct Theory’. A colleague of Kelly’s called Landfield devised a sequence of questions for helping his clients move forward if the construct the client had identified seemed unhelpfully vague.
Counsellor “You see people as being open-minded as opposed to having clear, concise views?”
Co. What would somebody be like if they were open-minded?”
C1. “They would listen rather than tell.”
Co. “How would you contrast someone who listens rather than tells?”
C1. “They would inform others of their views and ignore the views of others.”
Co. “And what would the person be like if they spent time listening rather than telling?”
C1. “They would be relaxed but attentive.”
Co. “How would you contrast someone to being relaxed and attentive?”
C1. “They would be tense and not open to communication.”
This sequence would go on until the client felt that they had a clear idea of how they were making sense of their world. By being clearer the client becomes more in control of his or her life, more aware of what they value and why. More able to do more of what they value and less of what they do not.
Enough of looking back, what I’ve tried to do in this blog, belatedly admittedly, is to put together a few questions that might be helpful to the retired person. Build your resilience. Point you in the right direction if you like. I make no apology (again) for choosing questions to encourage us retired people to focus on the positive aspects of our retirement. I’ll begin with one of my life favourites, the ‘scale question’, after that they’re in no particular order.
- How, on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is fantastic) would you rate your retirement? Two subsidiary questions – what were the positive aspects that made it the score you gave it? What would make it one point better?
- When are you at your happiest? PS. Make sure you notice and ask yourself why this is?
- What is your most satisfying achievement of your retirement so far or what are you most proud of?
- What are you looking forward to in your retirement (make something up if you can’t think of anything)?
- Who is your retirement hero and why? If things get tough ask yourself – what would X do now?
- What word or phrase would you use to describe yourself as a retired person? Are you happy with it? How would you like to describe yourself?
- What opportunities does retirement offer you?
- What are the aspects of your retirement you would like to have continue?
- What is the one single thing that you’re not doing now that if you started would make a positive difference to your retirement?
- What’s your best question about retirement?
So there we are, my ‘top ten’ retirement questions. Hope you find them useful in your own retirement.