The Question Mark

The Question Mark

I noticed something interesting yesterday. I’m not sure if it’s totally accurate, and it might just be a generalization, but it seems to happen to me alot (or maybe I just imagine it does).

Many times, when a person asks me a question, I notice that many times the question they really want answered is not the question they’re asking. The question they’re asking is a totally different or semi-related question. Either that, or they ask a very specific question, without actually giving me the big-picture of what they’re talking about to put the question in context. Let me give you an example:

A friend of mine recently asked me the question “How hard would it be to set up a website like Hotmail?”. Now, first of all this is sort of a vague question. I mean … “hard” is a difficult thing to quantify. Hard for who? Hard for me? Hard for Bill Gates? You mean for a team of designers or an individual? How robust a system are you talking about?

But the issue of quantifying “hardness” aside, without actually knowing what they would want to set up a website like that for, it’s very difficult to say either way. The question is out of context because I don’t know what they want that system for so any answer I give would most likely be pretty irrelevant since I don’t know the true question. The true question, I believe, was actually “What is the viability of such-and-such business idea?” which is a very different question, but one I could probably answer a bit easier.

Another example, Sometimes people will ask me a question like “What do you think of such-and-such-a-person?”. I think what people are really asking isn’t so much what I think of that person, but they want to know if the thoughts they’ve had about that person are justified by similar thoughts by other people. So maybe the real question is “I think that such-and-such might be true about this person. Have you ever considered that to be a possibility too?”

Jenn was saying that I’m pretty much the only friend of hers that ever has issues with the way her questions are asked. I’m not sure why this is. She calls me Captain Literal, but for me, I don’t see it so much as a case of me taking questions too literally. I think it’s a combination of a couple things.

First, I think that people are kinda sloppy with the English language — myself definitely included. It might even be that I’m directing these things more towards myself than towards others. But I notice that people tend to cut corners or not explain themselves very clearly when talking about something, or they go on assuptions about what the people will understand … or they use a bunch of pronouns in their questions that pertain to things that might be going on in their head but they haven’t clarified with the other person. It’s not just Jenn that I have issues with about stuff like this. It’s most people. I just don’t bug most people about it because she has a better command of the English language than most folks I know, American-born or not. I suppose that my tendency to be annoyed with people’s sloppy use of English is also just because I’m annoying.

It’s like that age-old question that strikes fear in the hearts of men: “Do you think I’m fat?”

You see, realizing that most people seldom ask the question they really want answered, there is really no need to fear that question so much. The person isn’t actually asking you if you think they are fat or not. That’s a yes or no question. And there is really only one acceptable answer, right? No person in their right mind would every answer “Yeah, you’re fat.” because, for one, it’s rude, and two, no one is that dumb.

So really, they don’t want a yes or no question of whether or not you think they are fat (or ugly, or their hair looks weird, or whatever it is). The real question isn’t really a question … it’s a statement. (Granted I might just be talking out of my butt here. These are just ideas I have. Don’t crucify me if you don’t agree, okay? Please?)

The statement is one about self-worth … about self-esteem. It’s a statement that tells you the person who asks the question is having feelings that they might not be worthwhile in some respect. That they’re viewing themselves in unfavorable light. That they don’t feel good about themselves at that particular moment. They want some sort of reassurance that they are a good, attractive, worthwhile person. At the core, they’re asking you for acceptance and reassurance. There is no answer for “Do you think I’m fat?”. That’s not really a question. Sure, it is literaly a question, but a “yes” or “no” as to whether you think they’re fat is not what the person who asks it wants to know.

And it doesn’t just apply to questions like that. A question like “How was my jump inside?” is similar, I think. Sure, you want feedback on your kick, but you also might want justification from a third party that your feelings about your jump inside are valid. Maybe you did a really good kick and you think it was great, but you’re not going to say “Hey, wasn’t my jump inside great?” because that just sounds cocky and conceited. So you ask what someone thinks about it to see if you’re feelings about your jump inside are valid.

Or you ever notice that sometimes people ask you “How was your day?” when actually that’s exactly the question they want YOU to ask THEM? Heck, even I do that sometimes. I think everyone does from time to time. “How was your day?” is often the request “Ask me about my day” veiled in a polite question. Same thing with “Did you have a good weekend?” or “How was lunch?” or any number of similar questions. Often (and please note that I say “often” and not “always”, okay? Again .. don’t throw knives at me for my random thoughts and opinions) people are searching for opportunities to share their experiences and ideas with you, but many times social convention doesn’t allow for a polite way to start randomly talking about yourself. It’s often not until you’re in a close relationship with someone that they actually feel comfortable enough to say “Hey, check out what happened to me today …” That is usually the sign that they’re comfortable enough with you to say something like that. Or rather, it’s maybe not so much comfort as trust.

In order to just start talking about yourself with someone you sort of have to trust that person. You have to trust, for one, that they’ll be interested in the first place. You have to trust that they’ll provide helpful or wise feedback if needed. You have to trust that, basically, they care about you and really want to know how you’re doing. If you don’t really know someone very well, then you might not trust them enough to tell them random things about your day or your ideas, or at least not trust your understanding of them enough to feel that they wouldn’t mind. Or maybe you trust that they know you’d reciprocate with the same if they wanted to talk about their day.

Ah .. I hear what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “But what about people who just talk to random strangers and tell them all sorts of stuff about themselves?” Yeah .. I was thinking about that too. And I think we’ve all had some sort of situation like that before. You’ll find yourself randomly talking to someone at a party or at a gathering and discover that you’re telling them all sorts of personal information about yourself that you wouldn’t even tell the person with whom you’re in a committed relationship. But I don’t think we do this for the same reason. I think of this as the same reason we might talk to a therapist. Sometimes you just need to let things out .. to vent .. to talk about your issues without the person you’re talking to having a vested emotional stake in what you’re saying. Sometimes you just want an ear to talk to — an ear that isn’t someone you might run in to the next day at the apartment and freak out because of some of the stuff you ranted about the previous evening.

And to some extent, isn’t that what this blog thing is? It’s a way to talk about what you’re thinking … or about what you’re feeling … and to share it with the world? When we blog are we searching for validation? Are we searching for feedback? Are we searching for the empty void of cyberspace to accept our rantings without feeling emotional obligations for what is said? Are we searching for an outlet?

So I have to ask myself … why do I have an online journal? I’ve had one, off and on, for many years. There are people out there that retain some scary details about myself, that sometimes even I don’t remember, just because I’ve been writing in journals for a while. So why do it? Why sit here for 20 or 30 minutes a day and type all this random gobbledeegook out?

I guess for me, it’s a combination of all of those things. Validation on some of my thoughts. Feedback on what I’m feeling. Or sometimes, just an outlet to talk without really needing anyone in particular to say anything back.

Just a chance to put down in words, what I might be feeling inside — a place to express myself … to imprint a moment of my mind on to the canvas of words that make up my blog.

As Vida D. Scudder once said “Creation is a better means of self-expression than possession; it is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed.”

So perhaps we are expressing ourselves not so much to have other people give us feedback or to comment, but to create something uniquely ours. To imprint a piece of “us-ness” on the world … to drop a kernel of creativity with our own brand of uniqueness for others to see. To leave our mark. To give birth to an idea. To raise up a concept .. a thought .. that is our own, and show the world that we are worthy to take our place among the congregation of humanity … that we are justified in living among the masses of the world. That, by the act of creation, we are a member of the human race, with all the priveledges and rights afforded to such a position.

It is a reaffirmation of our creativity …

… a justification of our worthiness …

… a statement about our humanity …


Or, I don’t know.


Maybe we just like to talk alot.

Leave a Comment