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In This Together: The right questions can open up the world
Nov 29, 2013 | 1860 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BY LOUISE R. SHAW

Clipper Staff Writer

It’s all about the questions. And if you ask the right ones, you’ll travel to new places and be better informed about things in fields other than your own and gain insights from experiences other than the ones you’ve lived and get closer to people you think you know but maybe you really don’t.

With the holidays upon us, now is a great time to ask the right questions.

We talked about it when I was invited to Columbia to meet with students interested in journalism.

OK, it wasn’t Columbia Journalsim School in New York City, in case you assumed so for just the briefest second, it was sixth-grade newsletter writers at Columbia Elementary in Kaysville. But still, we talked about journalism.

I had been invited to teach about interviewing, something I am fortunate enough to do every day as a reporter.

My colleague, Jenniffer Wardell, suggested I shouldn’t just lead kids through a discussion on interviewing, but should actually do an interview. Jenniffer has also been known to teach journalism workshops, though I’m not sure she has ever been invited to Columbia.

While their advisor, Mrs. Badger, was out of the room, we started thinking through interview questions we could ask her for a story. Their first ideas involved favorite colors and hobbies.

That’s a start, I said, but doesn’t she have an accent? Yes, they said, she’s from Australia.

Hmmm. Why don’t we ask her about why she came to America, I said. And what she thinks about it. And what it’s like in Australia. And how she ended up teaching here. And be prepared to change the rest of our questions if her answers take us to different places.

When she returned, every student asked a compelling question and every answer took us to a place we’d never been before and helped us know a bit about kangaroos and a bit about the rewards of teaching.

And everybody learned something interesting and new about someone they’d worked alongside for three months.

And I didn’t mind a bit that as I was driving home, I realized I didn’t know her favorite color.

Multiple generations will be thrown together around the same tables as we celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas. Some, who are younger, may want to escape to their iPhones as soon as the eating is over. Some, who are older, may think they can’t talk the same language as the latest generation.

That will all change if we ask the right questions.

It’s OK to start with weather and movies and sports, but the sooner you get to the real stuff, the better.

For grandchildren, a question for grandparents might be: “What was it like to grow up in (city of grandparents’ youth)?” or “Do you remember (event students are studying in school – World War II, Kennedy’s assassination)?” (Be careful with this – some grandparents will feel sad if they think you think they were around in World War II).  

For grandparents, a question for the younger generation might be: “Who do you most admire in the world?” or “What are you talking about in your (history, science, music) class?”

The very most important thing to remember about asking questions is to let the answer lead to another question.

For most of us, we wait impatiently through an answer only so we have a chance to tell our own story. But stifle the urge to take over the conversation. Keep going where the person beside you might take you.

Asking the right questions is how I learned that two young boys at a school in Bountiful want to be scientists but aren’t sure they want to work for the government because then their work would have to be kept secret. It’s how I learned what it would be like to be on a humanitarian mission in Indonesia and how I learned the difference between Alzheimer’s and just getting forgetful as you get old.

It’s how we open the window not only to another topic or another event or another viewpoint, but to another life. And if done right, you’ll love asking questions of people who are different from you every bit as much as you love eating pumpkin pie.

And you don’t have to worry about overdoing it.

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