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The power of a question

“This above all, to thine own self be true”. 

Shakespeare’s words, spoken by Polonius to his son Laertes, in Act 1 of Hamlet, are well known. What is not well know is that if Laertes were to be totally honest, he would realise that his father may as well have told him to catch the wind. After all, to which “self” was he to be true?

The idea of self

The concept of “self ” may turn out to be a bit more elusive than initially presumed. Are we true to the self that shows up when we are in a bad mood? Or the one when we feel humbled by our mistakes? The one who speaks from the heart when we are upset or the one that shows up when we are excited and full of light?

Even when considering the basis of who you are, you seldom ask questions. You do not realise that asking questions about yourself allows you the mirrors for seeing your “self” from different angles.

Have you ever wondered who talks inside your head? Who answers? Which one are you, the one asking the question or the one providing the answer? How much of what is being said in your head is even important or true?

Who is this self you are trying to be?


Questioning is the art of learning. Learning to ask questions is the best evidence of understanding there is, far surpassing the temporary endorphins of a correct “answer”.

We should be questioning everything. Never losing a holy curiosity.

Einstein said the following:

  • If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the right question to ask, for once I know the appropriate question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.
  • It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
  • Never teach your pupils, only attempt to provide conditions in which they can learn.

Many people saw the apple fall from the tree but only Newton asked why. Darwin asked why the Galapagos islands have so many species not found elsewhere, no one else questioned this. We do not need to be this deeply contemplative when asking questions, but we should nonetheless ask questions about the situations we face, why we react the way we do, why we believe as we do, what limits us and what liberates us?

Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”.

Why do we stop asking?

Some people stop asking questions because they are simply lazy. They assume that they know the main things they need to know and so they stop bothering. They cling to their beliefs even when these beliefs no longer serve them and sometimes become the prison in which they survive.

Other people are afraid that by asking questions they will look stupid or even worse, ignorant or insane. They fear that questions may introduce uncertainty, questioning some of their core beliefs and this is a road few are willing to travel.

Lastly, some people are in such a hurry all the time, focussing on getting things done that they never stop to ask questions because it might slow them down. They happily risk rushing headlong into the wrong actions, as long as they do not have to stop and think.

This is certainly a norm in most organisations. A problem arises, people get together and generally the answers start flying, huge discussion on the right one, and then what appears to be the best answer, offered by a limited number of people gets unilaterally adopted. Perhaps more time should be spent asking questions and thinking about the real problem?

Today very few people have time to think, do they? They certainly do not have time for questions.

Keep asking

Unfortunately it is very often only in the “end” phase of our lives that we start asking critical life questions.

Questions, that should we have asked them earlier, could have fundamentally changed our lives.

Why are you in a marriage that does not fulfil the promise you made to yourself?

Why do you stay in a job or career you despise?

Why do you tell yourself stories that limit your potential? Like, “I stay in my job because getting good jobs is very difficult in the current market”, yet you have not even looked for a new job or spoken to an employment agency.

What are you pretending not to know?

When last have you thought about your thinking?

Why don’t you do the things that you know you should be doing?

What don’t you know, that you should know?

Are your “shoulds”and “buts” getting in the way of your happiness?

If you weren’t scared what would you do?

What does the greatest version of you look like?

What does your future look like?

Stay in love with the question, do not allow the fear of an answer you may not like stop you from asking the question. Remember that the only way to create something out of nothing is by asking a question.

Questions are creative and open up possibilities while answers are often closed and limit possibilities outside of the answer itself.

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple – Dr. Seuss.

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