Monday, August 29, 2022

Steve Stannard: Why it's important we keep asking questions

I vaguely remember as a child asking my father questions about many and varied things, because I was sure he was the fountain of all knowledge.

That was well before the middle teenage years at which point I suddenly knew much more than him.

Many years later, I recall my children asking me about things: “Why is grass green?” “Why isn’t there a king?” “Why can’t I spend my Monopoly money at Pak-N-Save?”

Being able to confidently answer these makes you feel useful and important as a parent, and as such, questions were encouraged.

There was certainly no penalty for questioning things. In the small world of my wife’s mothers’ group, one youngster was rather too regularly asking “why?”.

Mum finally asked the young fellow in exasperation: “You ask a lot of questions, don’t you Callum?”

To which the six-year-old replied: “Yes Mummy, but why?”

We could take a leaf out of Callum’s book and take the opportunity to ask why more often.

Perhaps not the bleeding obvious like why we can’t trade Marylebone Station for a frozen chook at the supermarket, but thinking about what we, us and them, often do and why we do it.

We should review why do we things personally, and as a culture. Longstanding things and things more recent. And the start of that process is asking why.

Why don’t we eat meat and three veg for breakfast? Why is milk white?

Why do we drive up and down the carpark looking for the spot closest to the shop when the empty spot in the corner is only a 45-second walk?

Sometimes the answer is obvious and sensible, sometimes it’s historical. Sometimes there isn’t a good answer, including: “It’s what we did last year.”

Anyway, sometimes when you ask why, you’re the only one that has the guts to do so, and everyone else wants to know the answer!

If I ask a question about something it doesn’t mean I don’t agree with it. It’s just that I want to know how and why. Like Callum. Then if I know how and why I can think about it and make my mind up.

But in modern New Zealand there is the assumption that if you question something you are automatically against it.

Perhaps that comes from our political debates where the opposing parties or reporters ask questions in a blatant attempt to trap or discredit others for what they are doing.

It also seems to have become more prevalent in academia, where rather than reasoned arguments parleyed with intellect and wit, one side responds to questions with dismissal or derision.

Regardless, the general assumption these days is that if you are questioning something you are against it.

The result is that too many hui conclude without the hard questions being asked. Kiwis don’t like to stand out by putting their head above the parapet and they will especially avoid confronting or awkward situations.

But hey, once the meeting concludes, the whingeing starts afresh.

If asked what my biggest concern about the current state of affairs is in NZ, my answer isn’t the looming recession or inflation. Not Three Waters or co-governance.

It would be how easily those with the intestinal fortitude to ask the hard questions are shut down because they are automatically seen as being obverse.

Rarely does someone reply gently with an educational tone or point of view. Rather, the first port of call seems to be ridicule, rank-pulling or some level of personal attack.

Questions about things that affect us all should be welcomed, even if they might seem dumb, stupid, or even politically motivated. And if the questions do happen to be loaded or mischievous, then they should be easily parried.

Nevertheless, like young Callum, there should be no penalty for just asking.

Steve Stannard is a former Massey University academic and small business owner in Palmerston North. This article was first published HERE

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