My mother used to say there’s no such thing as a stupid question. While I will always be grateful for her encouragement to greet every situation with curiosity, I disagree. One of the stupidest questions in the world, asked millions of times a day by grocery store cashiers is, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” To which I reply in my head every time, “I looked high and low for a jug of milk but came up empty so am buying this leg of lamb instead.”
I mean seriously, why would I be placing merchandise on a counter and reaching for my wallet if I hadn’t found what I was looking for?
Stupid questions like that one, most of them asked without thinking, would definitely be better left unsaid, but they don’t cause any real harm.
The stupid questions I take issue with are those asked by people who expect uninterrupted happiness to arrive on a silver platter. Beaten down by their inability to achieve immunity from the normal ups and downs of life, they shirk responsibility, blame others and grow increasingly bitter and stuck as they whine:
Why is life so unfair?
When is my luck going to turn around?
Why won’t anyone do things my way?
Why is everyone so untrustworthy/unreliable/uncooperative?
Why is this happening to me, AGAIN?
It’s perfectly normal to ask entitled, petulant questions after getting fired, dumped, injured, robbed or diagnosed with a serious illness. In the face of shocking circumstances, feeling unfairly rejected and horribly put upon and searching for someone to blame is a natural first step towards acceptance and eventual recovery. But when such responsibility-evading questions are a chronic response to standard set-backs of adulthood – being overlooked for a promotion, making a bad investment, getting stuck in traffic, being criticized, for example – all that is longed for is sabotaged.
Because really, how can you attract good things when you ask draining, self-defeating questions that only drive people and possibilities away?
In the spirit of JFK’s classic “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” the smartest questions are born of initiative, accountability and optimism. Rather than wonder why things have to be so unjust or difficult, ask how you can think or act to get better results.
If you’re visiting the Sunshine State and it rains all week, you might wonder, “What indoor activities can I enjoy so that this vacation isn’t a total wash?” If you’re tired of dates or job interviews that don’t go anywhere, you could inquire, “Is there something about the way I’m doing things that isn’t serving me?” If you’re overly stressed, you may consider, “What new habits can I develop so that I can be more relaxed?”
The primary benefit of asking questions that empower you to improve your lot – rather than charge others with responsibility for your well-being – is that you grow more competent, confident and in command of your life. Resilience and wisdom come from looking squarely at yourself and continually refining your inner resources to work through challenges. And that’s precisely what you need to address the riddles of existence to which there are no easy or final answers:
How can I thrive in the face of change and uncertainty?
How can I be more grounded in reality?
How can I nourish positive, energizing thoughts?
How can I make the most of every life stage and age?
Where can I find light during periods of darkness?
How can I get comfortable with imperfection?
Who am I and what is my purpose?
How can I conquer my fears?
How can I be my best self and contribute to the world in meaningful ways?
And, most importantly, how can I be less encumbered by people who ask stupid questions?
The more you ask questions like these that solve rather than create problems, launch you out of stuckness towards bigger and better horizons, the more you will agree:
How well your life plays out is entirely a question of what you ask.