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What Questions are you Afraid to Ask or Answer?

January 12, 2011

Question mark in Esbjerg

This post is about questions, but it’s really about dealing with fear and criticism.

Last week, two phrases came up separately that had to do with questions. In a way, these phrases are like zen koans – little mysteries that need to sit with you for awhile before they can be figured out.

The first came from my reading of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk; I am studying his work all this year. In the prologue for his book, No Man is an Island, he begins by saying,

Anxiety (or fear) is really  “the fruit of unanswered questions.

Since my theme for this year is to be fearless, this really struck  me. Whenever I feel anxiety or fear, what questions I am not answering?

For example, if I am afraid to make a career move, usually the basic fear is one of failure; the question is, “What if I fail?” Maybe the real unanswered question is, “What if I succeed?”

If you try to answer the first as in what is the worst that could happen, it doesn’t compare to what would happen if you actually succeeded. And failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It gives valuable information that can be used in taking your next step. So, looking at these questions realistically helps you get past the fear. Danielle Laporte speaks the white hot truth in tackling this exact example in her article, Fear Management vs. Fear Leadership.

The second phrase came while watching an interview with journalist Diane Sawyer. Someone else said to her in an interview,

Criticism is really just a request, so why not just ask?

To me, this sounds like the secret to a good marriage, or any relationship for that matter. When you feel like criticizing or are being criticized, what question is not being asked?

For example, if I criticize my husband for watching yet another hockey game, what question am I really asking?

When are you going to spend time with me?

Now, this is true that my husband likes to watch hockey, and he works really hard so this is relaxing down time for him. But I have a valid question too, so why not just ask for what I need? And, by the way, he’s pretty good at making time for me too. But, as Oprah told one husband who watched an extraordinary amount of football, “Pretty soon she’s not going to care anymore. Is that what you really want?”

The second phrase is like the flip side of the first. The first has to do with answers and the second with the questions.

Interesting, don’t you think?

Try paying attention this week to these two instances of fear and criticism and ask yourself what questions you haven’t answered or what questions you need to ask. What happens?

Related Reading

The Inspirational Thomas Merton

No Man is an Island (Amazon)

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