Ask Really Big Questions

A participant in a recent leadership workshop asked me an evocative question: “What is your favorite chapter in your book?”. Given that the workshop focused primarily on communication skills I referred her to Chapter 9 on Six Indispensable Communication Skills in Talk Matters!. But then I paused and realized that one of my favorite chapters is Chapter 1 in which I describe the propositions underlying the practices that are the focus of the book. “They are part of my world view,” I said.

Driving home after the session, I continued to consider her question landing once again on Chapter 1 and its nine propositions. Today, given the debates occurring in Washington, DC, I want to delve into one of them: “We Need to Ask Really Big Questions.”

Asking Really Big Questions helps us surface the deeper issues or conflicts underlying the problems we are trying to solve. When a group finds itself at an impasse, with seemingly no way forward, asking a Really Big Question can open the door to a deeper conversation about what is going on underneath the stuck places and apparent dead ends.

Here are three examples of Really Big Questions that could help you move forward, but only if you or your colleagues are willing to ask them full heartedly and wrestle with them honestly.

  • How do we balance current priorities with the desire to pass on a healthy and peaceful world to our children?
  • What are the principles of human rights and well being that we want to guide every decision we make (in our institutions: public, private, nonprofit)?
  • What is the Common Good, or the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number? Who cares? Who gets to decide?

Although the decisions you make in your community and organization might not have the scale of impact that decisions regarding, for example, the refugee crisis or the health care system in the US, your decisions do affect the quality of people’s lives and their sense of well being at work and in their communities. What Really Big Questions, if you took them on, might help you work your way through to satisfactory solutions to issues that seem to never go away?

For some additional Really Big Questions see The Power of Unexamined Beliefs  and for some thoughts on the role of good questions see Asking Questions of Genuine Curiosity.

Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available.  Click here to purchase it.

1 thought on “Ask Really Big Questions”

  1. This is a really good post, Mary. Those big questions can be like Zen Koans as well. When Christian was in his early teens, I asked him to ponder (not quickly answer) the question, “What is the most important issue/problem in the world – I.e., the one that if we don’t solve it, solving all the rest of the problems won’t matter?” It’s not quite as well-formed a question as yours below – not as open ended and based in inherent dilemmas, but it does drive one to many of those same issues. I certainly think your suggested questions are great for starting better conversations with conservative friends! I am going to use them.

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