An Inquiry Challenge – Emma Froggatt

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I have attempted a little philosophy in my life of asking the question, until the point is confirmed. I try to ask questions of my thoughts, beliefs, hopes and habits in some attempt to strengthen the things that I can believe are true, and filter out the things that don’t matter so much.

I think the idea of asking a question to “strengthen” came from the educational philosopher Piaget whose ideas resonated with me during my (very limited) three weeks of studying an Education degree at uni. The idea goes that a child must ask a question in order to confirm his learning (…education students correct me if I’m wrong.) For example, let’s assume a child understands the concept of a dog. Next he gets introduced to the concept of a bear. He needs to ask questions in order to integrate this new concept to his learning. Is this a big dog? What features are different? A child must ask himself these questions in order to create a new category (the category of bear) and confirm his understanding of an old category (the category of dog).

So what does this have to do with Forum?

We go through life with a stock-standard set of ideas and beliefs. Forum tries to throw these into question. It stimulates questions that might help you to confirm beliefs, or to create new categories.

When I arrived at forum in March last year, I had just begun my Masters of Arts in Journalism. In class we had been dissecting interview techniques: how to get information out of people and how to “ask the tough questions” (something I’m still learning).

I arrived in Canberra and my mind was swiftly cast to the previous time I’d been there on work experience with The Canberra Times. I flinched at the memory myself awkwardly interviewing an Afghani National for a story I was doing. I remember feeling so pressed to write something myself that my focus was not on him, but on my questions. I was so caught up asking him the questions I’d written on my notepad that I was unable to go with the natural flow of the interview, and ask him questions based on what he was saying.

And indeed, sometimes in life, the question changes. The question isn’t what we think we need to ask. It changes according to who we are asking it of.

It was on the bus on the way to the hotel from Parliamentary Question Time that I got thinking again about the power of the question. I flicked my mind back to watching Parliament in sitting where the pollies spin on their chairs in their RMs, rolling their eyes as they turn to face their side of politics. It seemed that rather than listening to the opposition, they faced the other side and listened for the ‘hear hear’ that would echo their point of view. I wondered.. imagine if we stopped to listen to the question, rather than engaged in the theatrics. (Although yes, of course, the circus and the sketches do make politics more fun).

Over the weekend we engaged in (hold the theatrics) question time of our own. Making friends, making small talk, sharing personal stories and engaging with speakers, the questions rolled on in. Many of these were important questions. Questions we didn’t expect. I’m sure NSLF alumni will remember.

These are the questions that came when we heard a person share their story very intimately, and the judgments we made on meeting them on day one began to shift. The questions that were raised when we began to empathize with people who touched on aspects of their worlds that have never touched our own. The questions that were raised when we listened for how certain people had developed resilience, had survived trauma, or as we simply realized how much wisdom the people around us have to offer.

And asking these questions ends up strengthening beliefs, or helping us open to form new categories of ideas. Even in that, being open to forming new categories brings so much greater freedom – greater freedom of exploration that asking questions becomes exciting.

Eyal Halamish, from OurSay ran the final session I went to at the Forum. OurSay is an independent organization that uses social media to encourage young people to ask questions of politicians. He spoke about the power of the question. He explained that there existed a Jewish tradition wherein young Hebrew scholars would discuss the Torah with their Rabbi, and the emphasis in their learning was on their questions. The Rabbi would tell them that in order to get the right answer, they had to ask the right question. He would ask them, “is there more scope to that question?”

This made me think of the ministry of Jesus Christ, recorded in the New Testament, where Jesus was quick to respond to questions with questions.

Matthew 15:1-3 (NIV) it’s recorded:

“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Jesus was turning custom and culture on itself by asking for it to be re-inquired. A reinquiry is necessary in order to produce better questions, which might give better answers. And I do believe that as we continue to ask questions, they will continue to point us to the truth.

And this is the nature of dialogue – which is what’s so exciting about life – everything we have, we share. We each have different pockets of knowledge or insight or truth revealed to us, and share it with one another in dialogue. In talking and asking questions. In reflecting back and forth.

Now back to where I began, I am quite happy to let you know that my interviewing technique has been relaxing this year. Relaxing to the point of not sticking too intensively to my page, but also including banter, rolling off topic and bringing the conversation back to its main point (!) In those instances of interviewing, I am not the expert; I am extracting knowledge unlike a conversation, which is a dialogue back and fourth.

Yet even still, learning to listen and to be slow to respond (with my own quick wit or intelligent response) has been an interesting learning curve. Attempting to listen and be slow to respond helps me to form better questions which (surprise surprise) help to garner better answers… The kinds of answers I think the rabbis were talking about.

So to wrap this up in some kind of conclusion. I’d advise you to come to forum with questions, not knowledge. With blank pages, not books. And with the ability to ask questions of people, not forgetting they will want to ask questions of you. I hope to play at questions with you while we’re there!

Title: An Inquiry Challenge
Author: Emma Froggatt
Format: Blog Post
Year Published: July, 2014
Publisher: National Student Leadership Forum
Access: Online Library of the National Student Leadership Forum

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