A remarkable lady died this week. Helen Thomas was 92 years old and was the first woman to become a Chief White House Correspondent for a wire service, and the first to join and to lead the White House Correspondents’ Association. She covered every single president from John Kennedy through Barack Obama. One of her most famous acts was confronting George W. Bush about the invasion of Iraq, and it is what I will always remember her most for!
The most unique thing about Thomas was not that she was a woman. It was that she had the ability and the extraordinary courage to always ask the tough questions. This lady had the nerve to interrupt presidents, to talk back, to question and badger until she got the answer the she wanted, or at least proved that she wasn’t going to get an answer no matter how hard she tried. Thomas wanted the truth, and she wasn’t going to stop until she got it!
“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” ― George Orwell
When my kids were teenagers I used to complain that I had raised children who I wanted to question authority, but I didn’t mean MY authority! The truth is that while I wanted them to be respectful to me and to other adults, and while I wanted them to follow the rules in my home, I never wanted them to stop asking questions, ever.
My children knew that they could always come to me with any questions. When they were little, this was easy. As they became teenagers it was more difficult but we got through it. Initially, if it was a really tough question that I wasn’t expecting, I could occasionally be known to freak out a little (drugs, sex, etc.) but could always be counted on to eventually gain my composure and help to find the best answer. Sometimes they agreed with the answer and followed the advice, and sometimes they didn’t! What I really appreciated was that they trusted me enough to ask, to come to me with things. I knew that not all kids had that relationship with their parents and I did a lot to encourage and maintain it.
We are often afraid of our children’s questions. We are afraid of what it might mean, afraid of why they are asking it, or afraid we don’t know the answer. Sometimes we are afraid of their questions because they may cause us look at our own unasked questions. They will make us look at our own beliefs and assumptions. We may have to consider that sometimes it’s not that we don’t know the answer, it’s that our answer is simply wrong. Then we have to figure out what we are going to do with that new knowledge. Are we going to let it help us grown and change or are we going to dig our heels and stick to our old paradigm. It’s not possible to really know the truth if we don’t ask questions and challenge assumptions.
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” ― Winston Churchill
Questions are not just about gaining knowledge, or learning new facts. Questions are also vital to good communication in any relationship, whether it be a romantic one, a friendship, a co-worker, or a parent-child relationship. Assuming we know what the other thinks or means is the cause of most conflicts. I’ve learned, through great effort, to step back when needed, to evaluate the situation and ask myself a few questions before reacting. What was the motive of the other person? Was it to hurt me? Are they just not aware of how their words were interpreted? What is my motive for bringing this up? Is it selfish, vindictive, anger driven, or is my motive to improve communication and improve the relationship? What does my gut tell me about all of that? Asking those questions before reacting can ward off and resolve conflict and mis-communication long before it gets out of hand.
Middle age is really characterized as a time when, if we haven’t already, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions. Am I happy? Am I satisfied? If not, why? If not, what am I going to do about it? If I can’t change it, can I accept it, learn from it, or distance myself from it if necessary? What am I waiting for?
We need to find the courage to ask the tough questions, in both our public and our private lives. We need to ask the tough questions of our president, of our government, of our friends and family and lovers. We need to ask those questions of our religious leaders and even of our god. We need to find the time and space and quiet to ask ourselves the tough questions. We need to ask the tough questions because when we don’t ask questions we leave ourselves open to other people’s interpretations of the truth. We need to ask the tough questions before we wake up one day and realize that our lives have gotten ahead of us, that we’ve been on the wrong road, that we left our dreams a few miles back.
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”― Gloria Steinem
And sometimes like Thomas, we may ask over and over but we eventually have to realize that for some things, we simply aren’t going to get an answer. And then we have to ask ourselves what we are going to do with that knowledge? How do we move on from here? What’s next?
Not asking the questions doesn’t change the reality of the situation. If you don’t ask your friend or co-worker about a misunderstanding, you may never have the chance to resolve it. Instead it festers and grows. If you don’t ask your teenager about their dangerous behavior you may save yourself some heartache in the short term but in the long run you are risking both your relationship with them, and maybe their lives by not being able to intervene and help. If you don’t ask your partner or lover about a tough situation, a problem or issue, you are only putting off the inevitable and maybe by the time it finally surfaces it will be too late to solve.
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
― Flannery O’Connor
If you don’t ask yourself the tough questions you will never experience the freedom of owning your own life, of being comfortable in your own skin, of accepting what is and making the best of it. You will never truly experience the peace of living in the moment because unanswered questions will always be swimming through your thoughts. Seizing every single bit of happiness that life has to offer, despite the heartache and challenges, requires knowing the truth. Only then are you free to make decisions about your life that are satisfying. Only then can you learn to live peacefully with the one person you will always be with – yourself. No other relationship will work until you have that one down!
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ― Jim Morrison