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A Great Question to Ask Ourselves

By Frank Blake
The right question can be as powerful as the answer it provokes. Often moreso.

I mentally collect what I consider great questions, which I use for reflection or to spark conversations.

Our recent Crazy Good Turns interview with author, philosopher and poet David Whyte provided us all with a new great question - and a strong incentive to ask it of ourselves.

Can You Build a 'Beautiful Mind'?

During his interview, Whyte discussed how a worthy goal in life is to develop a "beautiful mind."

He was not referring to the 2001 film bearing that name. Nor was he implying that we ought to try to be as smart as the movie's protagonist, mathematician John Nash.

Instead Whyte explained how, among other things, a beautiful mind is "more generous and more inquiring." And Whyte said anyone can improve their mind through intentional practice, just as they'd get better at a musical instrument through practice.

The key, Whyte says, is to ask ourselves "beautiful questions."

For an example of a beautiful question, Whyte gave the following lines from the poet David Ignatow:

I wish I understood the beauty in leaves falling. To whom are we beautiful as we go?

I'm not sure whether the question would have impacted me so profoundly had I simply read it. However, hearing Whyte say it aloud and listening to his explanation of what one can learn by reflecting on it places this "beautiful question" among the all-time best I've considered. I encourage you to hear Whyte's discussion.

David Ignatow's question - to whom are we beautiful as we go? - is a reminder that we all are going. And as we are, someone is watching us. What do they see?

Questions as Building Blocks for Friendship

Great questions shouldn't be kept to oneself. Here's an interesting crazy good turn to try with friends and family: Ask "beautiful questions" at meals or get-togethers.

For example, among my mental collection is a question asked by Tony Robbins on Tim Ferriss's podcast:

"As a child, whose love did you crave most and who did you have to be to get it?"

I've asked many friends and acquaintances this, and their responses are often fascinating and surprising, even to themselves.

Our producer of Crazy Good turns, Brian Sabin, goes one better. He's collected a list of questions and regularly hosts discussions with a group of friends on them - an idea he borrowed from author and podcaster Nir Eyal.

Brian says sometimes the discussions leave him absolutely floored. For example, one of the questions on his list is:

"What's something challenging that everyone should try at least once?"

Common themes among answers were tough physical endeavors, like running a marathon, or adventures like skydiving or scuba diving. Those are all good answers and worthy challenges. But the "pierce to the heart of life" response came from a friend who said simply: Forgiveness.

You don't have to think up these questions on your own. As I mentioned, I've found mine in the most random places.

If you need a starting point for your own collection, science has you covered - there are 72 interesting options compiled in a 1997 research paper which examined whether open, honest dialogue around good questions can bring people together. You don't need a Ph.D. to guess that the answer was "yes."

As a starting point, here are three questions from that study to ponder - or discuss with friends:

  • What would constitute a "perfect" day for you?
  • Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  • For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

That last question seems especially appropriate for all of us who are part of Crazy Good Turns. And I'd love to hear your answer.

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