A friend recently sent me a list of ponder-isms he’d found somewhere on the internet, some of which I found funny, but none of which I felt were truly worth pondering. For example—
- Why do we feel we have to put our two cents in, yet offer only a penny for the thoughts of others? Where does that extra penny go?
- How is it that we put men on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage?
- After a good night’s sleep, why do people say they slept like a baby when babies wake up every two hours?
- If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?
- Why do doctors leave the room while you change? They’re going to see you naked anyway.
- How did the person who made the first clock know what time it was?
I confess I have no answers at the ready to any of these questions, humourous or otherwise. But they remind me of the queries I used to get from my grandchildren when they were quite young, back when they still thought their grandpa knew everything.
Three of them are in university now, and the other two not far off, so our current conversations tend to be more an exchange of ideas than they once were, and less a Q&A. I’ve found to my delight (and sometimes chagrin) that they’ve developed their own problem-solving skills and are far less likely to turn to me for answers.
Mind you, they still query things they don’t understand, for the root of any problem-solving system I’ve ever heard of—indeed, the very root of learning itself—is the ability to ask questions. And not just the right questions, mind you, but any questions. And not just the wherewithal to ask, but the inclination, as well.
As adults, many folks have lost that inclination to ask questions. Perhaps some of us get hung up on the notion that we’re supposed to know it all; asking questions would display our ignorance. And perhaps we’re not secure enough to risk showing that to others. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. Many of us have forgotten how to go about solving our problems without a lot of false starts, needless aggravations, and wasted time.
But I remember listening to my grandchildren, and they were the best problem-solvers around because they asked questions ceaselessly. At their tender age, they seemed unconcerned about the effect on others of the questions they asked. No question was too silly, no question too embarrassing, if it elicited an answer that helped to unlock the unknown.
For instance, on one occasion the problem had to do with learning to fish, and I got these questions from two of my granddaughters.
“Gramps, do worms feel the hook?”
“Hmm, that’s a good question, l’il guy. I’m not sure.”
“If it doesn’t hurt them, why do they wiggle around so much?”
“Ah, well, worms are pretty wiggly all the time, right?”
Her younger sister, inspired, chimed in, too. “Why don’t the worms drown, Gramps? Do they know how to swim? How can they swim with a hook in them? Can they hold their breath?”
I couldn’t keep up with the barrage.
“What do worms taste like, Gramps? Are they good? Do fish like them? What else do fish eat? What happens if the fish aren’t hungry?”
Had I been able to answer with any authority, as confident in my answers as they were in the questions, much of the mystery of fishing would have been solved for my young interrogators.
In another situation, I had to consider these questions from my grandson, who was grappling with the existence of Santa Claus.
“Is there really a Santa Claus, Grandpa? I mean really? Who is he? How does he get into our house? How can he go to everybody’s house in the whole world? He doesn’t make all the toys by himself, does he?”
Before I could reply, more questions spilled forth.
“And if he’s real, how come not everyone believes in him? Do you believe in him, Grandpa? Really?”
It was a very long time since I’d been the one asking questions like that—confidently and without inhibition. But I suppose I did once, when I was the same naïve child. Of course, back then I believed whatever my mother and father told me; and what they told me was that things would be just so if I wanted them to be just so. It was really up to me. As long as I was willing to believe in Santa, they told me, then there really was a Santa. And if I believed the hook hurt the worm, then it did and I should act accordingly.
As a grandfather now, I’m not sure that’s always true, but I know I rarely if ever ask those sorts of questions of anyone. Instead, I turn to the internet, which is, in itself, a problem.
Perhaps my best course would be to start asking questions again, even if I think I can’t. And I should probably pose those questions to my grandchildren, see what advice they’d have to offer.
After all, as someone wiser than I once said, The final stage of wisdom is becoming a kid again.
And after all this pondering, that’s what I think, too.