As I am certain my parents would attest, I am big on asking questions. Even now, I have little shame in probing into the how and why of everything from human motivation to scientific knowledge, though I would hope I've developed a little more tact than I once had.
It is my parents' fault, of course. One of my earliest memories is, as a 3-year-old in Sunbeam class at church, sharing what I heard in Church that day only to have my dad ask me why I believed it. Because of that gift of a questioning spirit, at eight years old I was fully prepared with a testimony of the truthfulness of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, and the story of Joseph Smith's vision. I had actually read that book myself and prayed as he did.
That is a gift that every parent should try to give their children. I only hope that I do half as well as my parents did with me.
That burning need to understand, to experience and know things for myself, is a huge part of what draws me to internet discussions. There are fewer social courtesies online, things can be discussed that many people would hesitate to share in person. My beliefs are questioned and challenged, and I thrive on that.
Questions help me delve more deeply into myself, help me reach out to my God more fully. They keep me from ever being satisfied with what I know and who I am.
There is a darker side to questioning, however, which I am beginning to see more clearly. I have learned that there is a righteous and unrighteous way to question, a way that brings me closer to God and a way that divides us.
We see examples of those who use questions as divisive weapons in the Book of Mormon and the New Testament. These are people who ask questions, not to learn or figure things out for themselves, but because they believe they already have the answers. They don't want to learn, they want to teach, and they aren't happy with any result but the one that agrees with them. As a debate tactic, it is highly effective. Divide your audience and conquer them. But it is not constructive questioning.
Anytime you share your honest beliefs and faith with someone, especially in an online and public forum, it is important to learn how to tell the difference.
The tactic is not evil by itself. It can be used to help someone make leaps in understanding and overcome faulty assumptions. But it can also be used to try to establish the superiority of one person over another, or to sow seeds of self-doubt. I've had teachers like this, teachers who ask questions in order to make students feel stupid rather than to invite them to think. However, I've also had teachers who are masters at question-based learning, and these teachers engage me completely in the topic at hand. They help me feel enriched rather than diminished. They teach me to be smarter.
There are a few questions* I can ask myself to test whether or not I am questioning (or being questioned) righteously, or with the intent to harm.
- Is the questioner patient for the answer?
- Are they listening to the answerer?
- Am I feeling enriched and curious, or do I feel smug as an asker, or as an answerer, defeated and confused?
- Is the other person truly looking for understanding, or are they wanting validation for already formed opinions?
- For gospel-centric discussions, is the Spirit present? Are these questions inviting me towards God, or pulling me away?
After all, before every dream or passionate belief, there is a question.
*I like to call these metaquestions. ;)