Monday, February 28, 2011

Better Questions

Asking the right question is important. At church yesterday a friend and I felt awkward approaching unfamiliar folks and asking, “Are you new here?” When we’ve been asked that question by well-meaning greeters, we’ve been a little hurt to not be recognized as long-term members, so we didn’t want to unwittingly distress others in this way. But she and I were part of the greeting team yesterday, so we needed to figure something out. We decided instead to approach people and say, “I don’t think we’ve met.” That seemed more like a win-win question.

Watching Academy Awards acceptances last night, I did not hear a single speech that answered the question I was asking. Not that Colin Firth or Natalie Portman sits by the phone Saturday awaiting my call to say what’s on my mind before composing a Sunday acceptance speech. But what I really want to know is what the winner did to so convincingly get into the role that he or she became a character who could memorably touch the inner parts of our hearts. I will say the winners’ gracious appreciation for others who have helped them answers part of my question. Their process involved other people. But I’d love to know more about preparation for a role. 

Sometimes I get irritated hearing the questions asked by TV news reporters. My pet peeve is, “How are you feeling?” when asked of someone whose house has just blown away in a tornado or whose child has just been murdered or who has just experienced another horrible, shocking loss. Why doesn’t the reporter just shove the microphone all the way up the person’s nose and kick him in the stomach? Duh-uh, the interviewee is feeling what every human would feel in similar circumstances; this is NOT news. It would be one thing if the reporter’s reason for asking the person’s feelings were to console him or to set up a website where compassionate viewers could express their sympathies. And I’m sure most reporters do feel compassion for their interviewees in these situations. But asking how I’m feeling in the midst of tragedy is more than a wasted question; it’s one that benefits no one and creates drama and a gapers-block mentality. Maybe I don’t want the world gaping at my pain in this moment. Maybe the reporter could ask a question that might instead protect interviewees and help viewers. How about, “What sounds did you hear right before the [incident]?” or “What would help you most right now?” or “How did it happen?”

I’ll end with one of my favorite questions. Although “How are you?” from a good friend is always welcome, I love hearing and asking the question, “What is God doing in your life?” Whether I am (or the friend is) wrestling with people or sin or doubt or life, whether we’re singing a happy tune—no matter what, I know the ensuing conversation will be fruitful, relationship-building, prayer-inspiring, and potentially life-changing.


tandemingtroll said...

Those are great questions. And I agree about the stupid questions that reporters ask people in a bad situation.

The church we attend now is pretty big, so our assumption is that they are regular attenders. We just introduce ourselves and ask people how they are. Sometimes, if someone is sitting alone before service, I ask them if they are waiting for someone to make sure they are not alone. Most of the time, they are not.

AquaJane said...

Kris, I got to try out the new question yesterday at church, and it worked well ~ opened up a nice, warm conversation with a woman who indeed was there for the first time. I'll remember your opening question, too; it's a good one.