On Questioning

I've probably done this post before, but I'll do it again - this time with a different angle.

I like to question things. This is not news; it's the way I function. I have asked questions for as long as I can remember. Whenever I see something that I don't understand or that doesn't make sense to me, I ask questions about it.

So far, so very Osnat-like. But this isn't purely about me; it can't be. I'm not the only thing in the universe - obviously. No, this is what happens when disillusionment, inflexibility and doubt all collide.

I don't really go in for idols or role models; I don't have giant posters of Einstein or Gandhi up on my wall. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that I don't look up to anyone, because I'm do. I'm young, I'm not confident, and I don't really know what I'm doing - I'm figuring it out as I go along. And thus I seek out strength - I see people who seem to be pretty influential and I listen to them. I don't always agree, but I at least listen.

So far, so good, right? The trouble is some of these people - not all of them, but a fair few - brook no argument, or appear to brook no argument. If you do argue or question or doubt you get mistaken for a traitor. I'm not saying all people are like this, so please don't take it as such - but be aware that they exist.

After having had a couple of run-ins I kept quiet; I don't have the energy to be isolated all day. I learned to be scared of asking questions openly and I felt that if I disagreed with people I was in the wrong, not good enough, somehow bad. I still asked questions, but I kept them to myself and a couple of loved ones.

There's this attitude in society that you must take responsibility for...um...I don't really know. Yourself, certainly. That's sensible. What's not so sensible is the attitude that you must take responsibility for things that happen to you, and the two are different. For example, I should probably look right and left when crossing the road - that's taking responsibility for myself - but I shouldn't be expected to take responsibility for a car hitting me. And yet that's exactly what society would expect me to do, because after all it happened to me and so it must be my responsibility, right? Trying to pin some responsibility on another person - say, the driver - is just me externalising things when really I shouldn't have been foolish enough to get myself into an accident in the first place.

It sounds a bit idiotic, to say the least, when put that way - and yet it's so hideously prevalent. There comes a time when you have to say that it's not your fault and that it is, actually, someone else's problem. You know what? If you want, I'll take responsibility for being young and stupid and not having realised this before. But I can't take responsibility for other people not creating an atmosphere conducive to questioning.

Maybe you're wondering just what's so bad about people being intolerant of questioning. After all, if you've hammered out your final line anyone who challenges it must be wrong, mustn't they?

Well...no. If anyone's ever had to work in an environment where doubt is frowned upon - and most people have - for someone who does doubt it's quite scary. You're torn between keeping quiet despite your reservations and facing the consequences of being honest. It's bad for everyone - not just for individuals, but for the system itself. It creates an atmosphere where people who say that they want what's right do one of the wrongest things around - which is to shut down any questioning that they don't like. That in itself reinforces a hierarchy - not good - but it also does far, far worse.

New ideas are very much like oxygen: figuratively, they can be poisonous and provide an atmosphere in which things burn - and we need them to survive. We have wars, a broken economy, corruption, broken politics, kyriarchy and the ticking time bomb of climate change. We need something that works, now more than ever, and the first step to that is having ideas that actually work too. That's where new ideas come in; that's where doubting, questioning, arguing all come in. You need to criticise ideas to refine them and come up with something different - and that simply doesn't happen when you can't even ask questions.

So what does happen? People are too afraid to challenge the prevailing ideas. No-one speaks up, so the intellectual pool stagnates. The prevailing ideas fall behind - if they ever worked in the first place - and after that, the group starts failing. It grows increasingly irrelevant. Perhaps it implodes. Either way, no good comes of it.

I suppose what I'm saying is: don't automatically assume people are wrong when they question, or that they're traitors. Listen to them. You might learn something - whether they're wrong or right.