My best friend Darrell and his wife Renee welcomed into the world a beautiful baby boy named Justin in 2010. I was probably more excited than they were because Justin was going to be my little experiment with fatherhood. Darrell and I refer to alter egos as Pap, and we couldn’t wait to turn his first born into a baby Pap.
A few months after Justin’s birth, Darrell and Renee stopped by on their way downtown. He handed me a card, which I thought was a thank you card for the support my wife and I provided during and after the pregnancy. When I opened it up, to my surprise, it was a card asking us to be the godparents for the “little man”. I must say it was truly an honor and privilege to be given this important role in his life.
Justin, who is now three, and loves his Goddy, is an inquisitive one. Since we no longer live in the same city, we speak mostly on the phone or via Skype in between visits to see him. Since learning to speak, our conversations have pretty much followed the same format. They go a little something like this.
Conrod: Hi Justin
Justin: Hi Goddy (in the softest, cutest voice).
Conrod: How was your day?
Justin: Ok. What you doing Goddy?
Conrod: Driving home from work.
Justin: Work? Why work Goddy?
Conrod: So that I can take care of your aunt and me
Justin: Where are you going Goddy?
Conrod: I’m going home
Justin: Home? Why home god-daddy?
Conrod: So I get something to eat and rest for a little bit
Justin: Eat? Why eat Goddy?
Conrod: So that I grow strong and healthy like you.
Justin: Ok Goddy. Bye
Every time we have these types of conversations, I cannot get over his use of “Why?” to gain a deeper understanding for my actions, how actively he listens to my response, and how short our conversations tend to be.
Most, if not all, have accepted the fact that kids do, say, and ask the most amazing things, and that there is so much to be learned from them. As I think about the progress a child makes between the ages of 2 and 4 or any two-year period in childhood, and compare it to any two-year span in adulthood, I’m not sure how much progress we adults actually make if formal training or education is not involved. If anything, it seems as if we go backwards. The cornerstone of children’s advancement is deeply rooted in the types of questions they ask and how well they listen, understand, and internalize the responses to their questions.
In my experience in the corporate setting, I believe most questions are manipulative, serving only to persuade someone to adopt a certain point of view. In my opinion, questions in this setting should be used to engage others, make people think differently, or gain a deeper understanding of someone’s thoughts or feelings about a particular topic or situation. Justin’s use of “Why?” goes after values and meaning, which is at the core of who we are.
Take a moment to reflect on two questions Justin asked me.
Why [do we] go to work…?
Why [do we] eat…?
I was floored when I realized how simple, yet powerful, these two questions could be in helping solve two major issues in the US right now: obesity and joblessness. Ask yourself these two questions, and then as an experiment, pretend your answer is “I don’t know”. Open yourself up to the range of answers these two questions could produce for different individuals. Then imagine the new ideas or solutions for resolving these challenges buried within the spectrum of possible responses to these questions. How many technological advances may have been born out of someone asking others or themselves the right question and the response was “I don’t know”?
Who taught my three-year old godson how to ask questions?
Who taught children to ask questions that most adults do not readily know the answers to?
Why are they not afraid to ask tough questions?
Why do they instinctively ask so many questions?
If all children seem to demonstrate the same behavior, then maybe we were all born hardwired to ask questions and our experiences with family, the educational system, the work world, or simply people with authority, suppresses the gift we were all given to significantly enhance our learning ability.
I’ve heard people say, “I know you heard me, but did you hear me”. Equally as important as asking the right question is listening to what is being said. Some people are really good at asking questions, but they seem to struggle with listening to the answers. The reason listening is so important is because how something is being said adds value to what is being said and you can sometimes even discover what is not being said. Listening is the best friend of asking questions and together they form the foundation for learning. According to Robert Baden-Powell, “if you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talking”.
I’ve always found the brevity of the conversations between Justin and I to be comical, while also being a serious reminder to never take someone’s time for granted. It’s almost as if he has an internal clock in his head that tells him he only has five minutes of my time. Or maybe, he is letting me know that I only have five minutes of his time before Ms. Nina or Thomas comes on the screen. Regardless, every time you ask a question or make a statement, you are taking up time. Therefore, it is important to be thoughtful of the questions you ask, diligent when listening to the response, and concise yet complete when making a statement.
I’m dedicating this post to Justin; also know as “little man.”
Share some examples of simple questions people have asked you that turned out to be profound. Tell us why.
Be on the look out for Conrod’s upcoming book.